January 30, 2023

After days of squalid limbo, the refugees of Keleti station square, armed only with desperation, forced the hand of a government they saw as jailers.

Despairing of ever escaping the increasingly squalid station, barred from boarding trains and buses without papers, they simply set off to Austria on foot, a 125-mile journey that seemed better than staying put.

The scenes they fled might have looked familiar to the 19th-century architects of Keleti’s soaring arches. Ever larger crowds of desperate, penniless, homeless people milled around, unable to go on to the countries they dreamt of, unwilling to go back to the countries they had fled, trying to hang on to dignity and hope.

It was not easy, as a refugee camp took shocking shape in the heart of a European capital. Hundreds were camping out on a metro underpass and a small plaza in front of its entrance. Among them were many children, cut and bruised, hungry and frightened.

Perhaps the most disgusting part of daily life was the lavatories, a fetid line of eight portable toilets for hundreds of people that by Friday was overflowing on to the concourse, the bitter ammonia smell drifting across the tents and sleeping bags laid out below.

There was a pump providing fresh drinking water and somewhere to wash hands and faces, but it was in a public concourse. A sign warned against washing feet, let alone any more intimate parts.

text source