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Migrants Begin Journey On Foot From Budapest To Austrian Border


The Hungarian government is putting hundreds of asylum-seekers on buses tonight and will take them to the Austrian border. The Austrian government says it will allow the migrants to enter, and the Red Cross is preparing a reception center. Many of the migrants hope to go to Germany, and the German government said tonight that it, too, will allow them in. For days, thousands of migrants, including many Syrians, have been camped out at the main train station in Budapest. They were blocked by Hungarian police from traveling to Germany and Austria. Earlier today, hundreds broke out and set off on foot toward the Austrian border. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley followed them, and we reached her at a rest stop on the highway between Budapest and Vienna.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: What I saw tonight was amazing. A stream of humanity just went by us for about 45 minutes. There are the people who left the train station, tired of waiting, and they decided to take their futures in their own hands and walk to the Austrian border. I saw incredible things - people pushing old people in wheelchairs. There was a young guy, and he had a prosthetic leg. And they had found him a bicycle and had him propped on the bike. His friend was carrying his crutches. But I can tell you, Robert, the mood was upbeat. People were flashing the victory sign. One man said, we are walking for our freedom. It was a totally different mood from the station, where people were scared and downtrodden. People felt very high spirits, even though it's a very tough walk.

SIEGEL: You're referring to the Budapest train station, where so many migrants were camped out. Are you talking about dozens of people, hundreds of people? How - what kind of a crowd is this that's walking to Austria?

BEARDSLEY: I would say at least a thousand people - hundreds and hundreds - at least a thousand. At one point, I tried to count, but they were pouring by. It was very chaotic.

SIEGEL: And have the Hungarian authorities been trying to stop this march to the border, or are they letting it proceed?

BEARDSLEY: It seems they're letting it proceed. And the Hungarian people poured out. They were along the side of the road to greet the marchers, and they were handing out clothes, food, water, even baby strollers, blankets. One man received a sort of Baby Bjorn to carry his baby. He was so happy - so diapers, things that they really needed. And these Hungarians said they're ashamed of their government, and they're horrified by the image of Hungary now in the international media. And they wanted to do something about it, so there were great scenes of them giving these things to the refugees and the migrants saying, thank you so much. And it was very rational.

SIEGEL: Yesterday, we reached you in the town of Bicske, where the Hungarians had taken the migrants by train. The migrants thought the train was going to Germany, but the Hungarians wanted them to register in a camp, so they refused to get off that train. What's happened with those hundreds of people?

BEARDSLEY: They, we've read, broke out of that train sometime late today. We were there yesterday, and there was a standoff - the police constantly surrounding the train, wanting the people to come off, but the refugees did not want to come off. And so, today, we heard they refused to stay in any longer. They just came off, overwhelmed the police and left. They are probably also trying to make their way to Austria on foot.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley on the highway between Budapest and Vienna. Eleanor, thanks.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
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