By Andreea Anca, IFRC and Gabriela Poller-Hartig, Austrian Red Cross
Over the past weekend, Austrian Red Cross volunteers have supported more than 15,000 people who crossed the border from Hungary in the span of 48 hours, on foot but also on buses and trains. There were 250 volunteers mobilized at the initial stage of this emergency operation. By Sunday the number of volunteers spiked to 1,400 assisting people along the borders, at the main stations in the country and on trains taking people westward towards Germany. Hundreds of other volunteers were on stand-by, ready to answer the call when needed.
In the early hours of Saturday, the first bus full of people arrived at the border crossing in Nickelsdorf. Men, women and children who had been sleeping rough for days in the underpass at the Keleti train station in Budapest received hot drinks and warm food from Red Cross mobile kitchens. Many people needed medical assistance and first aid at the four Red Cross locations along the border. Many slept on the beds that the Austrian Red Cross prepared for the fatigued travellers.
Samira from Syria is coming towards the end of her pregnancy and had to swim for 9km from Turkey to Greece with her husband. She said: “I am so happy to be here! I felt immediately safe and welcomed. I already saw a doctor and we have a place to rest for a while.”
Warm clothes, blankets and hygiene products brought a grateful smile to many of the exhausted people, including small children, who had started their journey in Turkey and Greece some weeks ago.
On Friday, 1,200 migrants started a procession on foot from Keleti train station towards the border with Austria on M1 motorway. During the night, many followed the same route in buses with several hundred people left to spend the night at the Budapest station. On Saturday morning the latter group woke up to a wet start but also to a cup of hot tea handed over to them by the Hungarian Red Cross volunteers and staff. “People were so grateful and happy to have something warm on this chilly morning,” said Ildiko Buncsik, the Director of the Budapest Branch who joined the team of 13 to distribute 900 hot drinks, along with blankets and waterproof covers.
“Throughout their journey people always need clothes to change and hygiene packs because they travel light and can’t carry enough in their small backpacks,” Ildiko said.
The day before, 80 Hungarian Red Cross volunteers followed the people who started their trip on foot distributing food, blankets and water along the motorway.
As many as 154,242 people – many fleeing conflicts and extreme poverty at home – have entered Hungary through the Western Balkan route before 6 September this year. For migrants on the Western Balkan route, Hungary has been mainly a country of transit and although Austria is expecting around 80,000 asylum applications in 2015, most of the migrants passing through Austria this weekend have already made their way to Germany.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies advocates for a coordinated, collective response that engages all countries in Europe to ensure the dignity and protection of people on the move.