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Normal service (i.e. chaos) resumes in Europe’s refugee crisis

On Wednesday, it seemed that the shocking image of Aylan Kurdi, the three year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach after drowning while en route to Greece, might shock Europe’s policymakers into a coherent response.

But normal service–that is, chaos–was resumed on Thursday after a fresh outburst of bitter mutual recriminations between European leaders and more flip-flopping by Hungary, which has become the chokepoint for the (mainly Syrian) refugees looking for safety and a better life in northern Europe.

Mayhem erupted after Hungarian police ended their two-day barricade of the capital Budapest’s main railway station, Keleti, allowing hundreds of refugees to board westbound trains via Austria to Germany, the final destination of choice for many.

Hungary’s right-wing prime minister Viktor Orban appeared to have ordered the change in strategy, saying that the situation was “a German problem” and again protesting the difficulties of assimilating large numbers of mainly Muslim immigrants.


However, pushback from Berlin and elsewhere in Europe seemed to have forced a quick change of heart in Hungary, as police stopped the train carrying refugees and ordered them off it so that they could register and be transferred to a temporary camp. That’s in line with the current rules in the E.U. but the last thing that the refugees wanted to hear.

Hungary has become a key staging post in the exodus of refugees flooding through south-eastern Europe up to more prosperous and welcoming E.U. countries such as Germany and Sweden. But as the country itself is relatively small and poor, it has been ill-equipped to deal with the numbers arriving.

Away from the new front line of the crisis, there were some fresh signs Thursday that the E.U. may be taking first steps towards a more equitable sharing of the burden. France abandoned its earlier foot-dragging Thursday and signed up to a German proposal for fixed quotas for distributing refugees equally around the 28-country bloc. The E.U. will hold an emergency meeting of Home Affairs ministers Sept. 14 to thrash out the matter.

Whether the proposal gets adopted will depend in large measure on the U.K., one of the E.U.’s biggest and richest countries, but one that has refused to accept all but a handful of Syrian refugees this year. British Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday that taking more refugees wouldn’t solve the underlying problem.