BUDAPEST/MUNICH (Reuters) Thousands of migrants streamed into Germany on Sunday, many traveling through Austria from Hungary where they had been stranded against their will for days, while European Union governments argue over how to respond.
A convoy of around 140 cars and vans filled with food and water left Vienna to collect exhausted migrants, many from Syria, who had set out to walk the 170 km (110-mile) stretch through the rain from Hungary's capital Budapest to the Austrian border, from where many would continue onto Germany.
Onlookers clapped and chanted, “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here,” as volunteers loaded their vehicles with food, water and soft toys.
However, the EU is deeply divided over how to cope with the influx of people from the Middle East, Africa and Asia, testing the principle of solidarity, making the 28-nation bloc look ineffective and heartless, pitting member states against each other, fuelling political populism and anti-Muslim sentiment.
A total of 6,800 migrants entered Germany on Saturday with another 5,000 expected on Sunday, Bavarian state officials said.
Germany has said it expects 800,000 refugees and migrants this year and urged other EU members to open their doors. But others say the focus should be on tackling the violence in the Middle East that has caused them to flee their homes.
The numbers in Europe are small compared to several million refugees in Syria's neighbors Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan and Pope Francis called on Sunday for every European parish and religious community to take in one migrant family each.
But a poll in France's Aujourd 'hui en France newspaper showed 55 percent of French people are opposed to softening rules for migrants to access refugee status.
A dozen or so well-wishers offering chocolate and bananas greeted between 600 and 700 people, mostly from Syria, arriving on two trains arriving in the southern German city of Munich, early in the morning with between 600 and 700 people. A third was expected with about 450 people, an regional administration spokeswoman said.
Most were bussed to reception centers after given medical checks, food and clean clothing. Many said they were from Syria, while others were from Afghanistan or Iraq.
OFF TO GERMANY
In Hungary, migrants freely boarded trains at Keleti station in Budapest, following handwritten signs in Arabic directing people to trains to Hegyeshalom on the border with Austria. Volunteers handed out food and clothing to hundreds of migrants filling the station.
Around 4,000 crossed into Austria from Hungary on Sunday, the Austrian police said. More than 10,000 have left Hungary since the border was thrown open on Saturday after thousands spent days camping outside the station.
Many are happy to have left Hungary after several days of confrontations with police and chaotic handling by authorities.
Hungary deployed more than 100 buses overnight on Saturday to take to Austria thousands of migrants who had streamed into the country after northward journeys through the Balkans from Greece. Austria said it had agreed with Germany to allow the migrants access, waiving asylum rules that require migrants to register in the first EU country they reach.
Wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags, long lines of people, many carrying sleeping children, got off buses on the Hungarian side of the border and walked through the rain into Austria.
"We're happy. We'll go to Germany," said a Syrian man who gave his name as Mohammed; Europe's biggest and most affluent economy was the favored destination of most.
Hungary, the main entry point into Europe's borderless Schengen zone for migrants, has taken a hard line, vowing to seal its southern frontier with a new, high fence by Sept. 15.
Hungarian officials have portrayed the crisis as a defense of Europe's prosperity, identity and "Christian values" against an influx of mainly Muslim migrants.
SHIPS TO ATHENS
German Interior Ministry spokesman Harald Neymanns said Berlin's decision to open its borders to Syrians was an exceptional case for humanitarian reasons. He said Europe's so-called Dublin rules, which require people to apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter, had not been suspended.
At an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg on Saturday, the usual diplomatic conviviality unraveled as they failed to agree on any practical steps out of the crisis. Ministers are especially at odds over proposals for country-by-country quotas to take in asylum seekers.
The flow of people risking the dangerous journey on flimsy boats across the Mediterranean, and baton-wielding police on Balkan borders, shows no sign of abating, as they flee a four-year-old civil war in Syria that has killed about 250,000 civilians and wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and in Africa.
On the Greek Island of Lesbos, about 500 Afghans protesting at lengthy identification procedures scuffled with Greek police in the main port. A Greek ferry took 1,744 migrants and refugees to Athens from Lesbos on Sunday and another one with 2,500 migrants was expected later in the day, the coastguard said.
A record 50,000 people hit Greek shores in July alone, and were ferried from islands unable to cope to the mainland by a government in financial crisis and keen to dispatch them into Macedonia, from where they enter Serbia and then Hungary.
More than 2,000 have died at sea so far this year. The Cypriot coastguard picked up 114 Syrian refugees from a fishing boat on Sunday.
The conflict the refugees left behind shows no signs of stopping either.
British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to hold a vote in parliament in early October to pave the way for air strikes on Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, London's Sunday Times said, and Le Monde reported that France was considering air strikes against the ultra-radical jihadists, joining a U.S.-led coalition.
The Australian government is due to make a decision within the week on whether to join the coalition. It has been part of the anti-ISIS operation in Iraq since last year.
(Additional reporting by Sandor Peto and Balazs Koranyi in Budapest, Angelika Gruber and Georgina Prodhan in Vienna, Shadia Nasralla in Alpbach, AUSTRIA, Francois Murphy in Salzburg, Michael Shields in Zurich, Robin Emmott in Luxembourg and Thomas Seythal in Berlin,; Writing by Anna Willard; Editing by Mark Heinrich)