Pro-migrant protests in Europe, Hungary says EU in 'dream world'

  • AFP, London
  • Updated: Sep 13, 2015 21:59 IST
People hold up placards during a demonstration as part of a pan-european movement to welcome refugees and call on European governments to show solidarity with refugees and migrants, in Athens, Greece (Reuters Photo)

Tens of thousands of Europeans protested on the streets Saturday showing solidarity with the huge numbers of refugees entering the continent, as Hungary's premier warned leaders were "in a dream world" about the dangers posed by the influx.

In London, one of dozens of events across Europe, tens of thousands demonstrated, brandishing placards reading "Open the Borders", an AFP journalist said, while in Copenhagen, some 30,000 took to the streets.

"I want to support the refugees," said Deborah Flatley in London, holding a homemade cardboard sign reading: "We admire your bravery. You deserve a safe and happy life. We welcome you here with open arms".

A boy dressed as Paddington Bear -- the marmalade-loving migrant who arrived at London's Paddington Station from "deepest, darkest Peru" in Michael Bond's famous books -- clutched a sign saying: "Paddington Bear Was A Refugee".

In Berlin, demonstrators waved a Syrian flag with "Refugees Welcome" written on it, while rallies in Stockholm, Helsinki and Lisbon each attracted around 1,000 people, including at a picnic in the Finnish capital.

Read:Europe faces biggest migrant crisis since World War I

But highlighting how the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants has divided the European Union, there were counter-demonstrations in eastern members of the bloc.

"We're here so that the government hears our voice and abandons any plans to welcome Muslims," the organiser of one such protest in Warsaw told a crowd of around 5,000 people chanting anti-Islam slogans.

'Unscrupulous' traffickers

The International Organization for Migration said Friday that more than 430,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year, with 2,748 dying or missing in packed boats operated by often unscrupulous human traffickers.

The influx has exposed deep rifts with the EU, with "frontline" states Italy, Greece and Hungary struggling and European Commission proposals for sharing 160,000 of the new arrivals in a quota scheme facing resistance among eastern members.

A protester holds up sign that reads, 'Solidarity with refugees' during a demonstration to welcome refugees in Warsaw, Poland (Reuters Photo)

Germany has absorbed the lion's share so far, taking in 450,000 people with the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel -- hailed as a heroine by many migrants but under fire at home, even from allies -- relaxing asylum rules for Syrians.

On Friday Germany's foreign minister, saying the crisis could be the biggest in the EU's history, failed in Prague to convince eastern European counterparts to sign up to the Brussels scheme.

'Not fleeing danger'

Hungary, meanwhile, has seen some 180,000 people travel up from Greece across its borders this year. Its plans to build a large fence, deploy the army and jail immigrants have earned it stiff criticism, stoked by images of migrants in packed camps.

But on Friday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban launched a broadside, saying Europe's leaders are "living in a dream world" with "no clue" about the dangers and scale of the problem, while denying that the migrants are refugees.

"These migrants are not coming our way from war zones but from camps in Syria's neighbours... So these people are not fleeing danger and don't need to be scared for their lives," Orban told Germany's Bild daily in an interview.

Orban said he would propose to his EU counterparts that the bloc provides three billion euros ($3.4 billion) to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, "and more if necessary -- until the flow of migrants is stopped."

The idea that quotas would work is an "illusion," he said. "(Can) we really stop the migrants going where they want? Who is going to keep them in Estonia, Slovenia or Portugal if they want to go to Germany?"

Migrants keep coming

Thousands more were meanwhile travelling up from Greece through the Balkans. According to one UN official, a record 7,600 entered Macedonia overnight Thursday to Friday, bound for Serbia and then Hungary.

New figures Saturday showed that 3,023 people entered Hungary on Friday, all seeking to travel via Austria to countries in western Europe, particularly Germany and Sweden.

Around 2,000 migrants were at Budapest's Keleti train station on Saturday, with 300-500 boarding trains to near the Austrian border.

Some 7,200 people arrived in the southern German city of Munich on Saturday, with officials expecting 2,000 more in the evening. Germany has placed 4,000 troops on standby.

Protesters march during a demonstration to welcome refugees as part of the European Day of Action in Lisbon (Reuters Photo)

Munich's authorities say they are running out of places for the migrants to sleep. "We don't know any more what to do with the refugees," mayor Dieter Reiter told German press agency DPA.

At the flashpoint Hungarian border crossing point of Roszke, dozens of Afghans on Friday night lay down in front of buses, refusing to be taken for police registration out of fear they would have to stay in Hungary, an AFP reporter said.

Despite a well-stocked camp around the border amply supplied by donations from across Europe, doctors warned Saturday of desperate conditions for pregnant women and the risk of disease.

"When you have no running water, no way to clean and people are arriving with contagious diseases, you have a problem," said Teresa Sancristobal, head of the Doctors Without Borders site team.

"We've heard Germany will send us back if we try to go there," said Abdul, a Syrian in his twenties.

"I just hope we don't have to stop," said Abdul. "If I stop now, I'll sleep for three weeks."

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