For three years, Hussam Haffi had been living in a Lebanese camp for those displaced by the war in Syria, eager to move his wife and four children to Europe, but wary of the journey’s many dangers. Finally, with Hungary threatening to crack down on migrants beginning Tuesday, Mr. Haffi decided it was time to act.
“We heard yesterday that Hungary was closing the border, so we hurried up,” said Mr. Haffi, a 44-year-old Syrian banker.
But not until he had managed to slip across the thickly forested border from Serbia on Monday did he hear that Germany and several other nations had imposed new border restrictions.
“I had thought of going to Germany, or maybe Sweden,” Mr. Haffi said, shrugging with resignation as his family was being loaded onto a police bus at the border. “Now, I don’t know. Maybe Austria is a good country?”
Plans were being upended Monday all along the dangerous trail that has funneled tens of thousands of migrants this year from the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Africa across the West Balkans into the heart of Europe. The news that Germany — and later Austria, Slovakia and the Netherlands — had imposed border controls passed like an electric charge through the human chain of refugees.
“If we can’t get to Germany, we are thinking of going to Belgium,” said Dana Jawad, a former sociology student from Damascus. Whatever happened, she would not return to Syria. “We had to leave,” she said. “The war destroyed everything.”
Just as they had when previous obstacles blocked their path, migrants interviewed along the route Monday were vowing not to give up. Some said they would plow ahead and hope to slip into Germany somehow, others talked of finding new routes that bypass Hungary by either moving west into Croatia and Slovenia or across the land bridge from Turkey into Bulgaria.
In Hungary, where thousands had passed in recent days along a rail line that once carried the Orient Express, the police late Friday afternoon sealed off that gap in the border fence and told newly arriving migrants to cross only at legal border stations.
SOURCE: RICK LYMAN
The New York Times