LONDON, United Kingdom – Tens of thousands of Europeans rallied on Saturday, September 12, urging solidarity with the huge numbers of refugees entering the continent, as Hungary's populist premier said leaders were "in a dream world" about the dangers posed by the influx.
In London, one of dozens of events planned across Europe, tens of thousands of people marched brandishing placards reading "Open the Borders", an Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalist said, while in Copenhagen some 30,000 took to the streets, according to police.
Other demos were planned in Germany, Spain, France, and elsewhere. But highlighting how the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants is dividing the EU, several counter-demonstrations were also scheduled in eastern members of the bloc. (READ: EU divided as record wave of refugees stream into bloc)
"It's time to speak out against the deadly borders that have been enacted in our name. People all over Europe are organizing resistance and solidarity in their towns and cities," organisers of the "#EuropeSaysWelcome" initiative said on social media.
"We want to let all the refugees know: You are welcome!"
At the London protest, a boy dressed as Paddington Bear had a sign saying: "Paddington Bear Was A Refugee".
A little girl held up a drawing of two hands clasped together with the words: "Help Syria, I'll be your friend".
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 going missing in packed and unseaworthy boats operated by often unscrupulous human traffickers.
The influx has exposed deep rifts with the European Union, with "frontline" states Italy, Greece, and Hungary struggling to cope and European Commission proposals for sharing 160,000 of the new arrivals in a quota scheme facing resistance among eastern members.
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 counterparts from eastern Europe to sign up to the Brussels scheme, which both Berlin and the UN say doesn't go far enough.
'Not fleeing danger'
Hungary, meanwhile, has seen some 175,000 people travel up from Greece across its borders this year. Its plans to build a large fence, deploy the army, and jail illegal immigrants have earned it stiff criticism, stoked by images of migrants in packed camps.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, whose country has seen thousands of migrants enter from Hungary in recent days, with all but a few passing through, was quoted Saturday as comparing Hungary's treatment of migrants to the Nazi era.
"Piling refugees on trains in the hopes that they go far, far away brings back memories of the darkest period of our continent," Faymann told German weekly Spiegel.
But on Friday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban launched his own 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, strictly speaking, refugees.
"These migrants are not coming our way from war zones but from camps in Syria's neighbors: from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey... 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 3 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, despite it having suspended train services to Hungary – to countries in western Europe, particularly Germany and Sweden.
Some 3,600 people arrived in the southern German city of Munich overnight, and officials said they expected a total of more than 10,000 on Saturday. Germany has placed 4,000 troops on standby.
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.
A huge operation has sprung up around the border zone, as NGOs, charities and doctors have set up a messy but well-stocked camp for the thousands crossing into Hungary every day.
It is still not enough, however, and volunteers warned Saturday of the risk of disease epidemics due to large volumes of waste, sickness and a lack of sanitation.
"We're overwhelmed. We just can't get ahead of it," said Mark Wade, a British volunteer who earlier helped carry a 12-year-old Syrian girl who had walked several miles with a grotesquely swollen knee broken after she was hit by a taxi. – Robin Millard with Eric Randolph, AFP/Rappler.com