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Hungary Resumes Train Service From Budapest To The West

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Migrants poured over the Hungarian border into Austria and then onto Germany this past weekend - some 14,000 in all - after border controls were lifted. At Budapest main train station, service westward towards Germany resumed yesterday. Police allowed migrants to board trains headed out of the country. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley rode with them.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: A cordon of Hungarian police just stood by and watched as migrants and some non-migrants packed onto waiting trains.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I'm finally boarding one of the trains out of Budapest. It's supposed to go to Vienna or to the border, just a surge of humanity to get on it. People are just so happy to be getting out of here.

BEARDSLEY: The train cars are full of families with little children and pregnant women. Most people don't speak English, but 25-year-old Qais Alzoubi is quite fluent so I take the opportunity to ask him his story.

QAIS ALZOUBI: My family is still in Syria. I'm from Daraa.

BEARDSLEY: Daraa, the southern Syrian town where protests began in March 2011 - back then, protesters had hoped the Arab Spring would bring a better life. But in Daraa, the peaceful demonstrations were brutally repressed. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's army laid siege to the town with troops, tanks and helicopters. Alzoubi says that's when normal life ended. He saw friends die and his father was taken away one day by Assad's police.

ALZOUBI: My father - Assad police. My father is 64 years old. They took it - for 30 days. And he died because of that.

BEARDSLEY: Before he fled two weeks ago, Alzoubi was sleeping in different places every night. He had been asked to join Assad's army.

ALZOUBI: Asked me to go to army. Even though I was studying, they asked me to go to army. And of course, I was afraid. You can't say no, of course - yes, they force you to go to Army.

BEARDSLEY: With his University closed and no safe place to hide, Alzoubi set off for Europe 10 days ago with a group of 15 other people. He says they slept in forests and crossed mountains and went for days without bathing. They had to rely on smugglers to take them from Turkey to Greece.

ALZOUBI: We go through the sea - to Greek. The boat can take only 25 people but we had to - yeah, 65 it was in the boat.

BEARDSLEY: Alzoubi tried to get off...

ALZOUBI: Till they forced us with guns.

BEARDSLEY: And tossed his bag and cell phone into the sea. Other dangers along the route include unscrupulous taxi drivers. He says part of his group disappeared when they took a taxi on Saturday.

ALZOUBI: I saw them when they get in the taxi. But they didn't make it, and I don't know where are they now.

BEARDSLEY: At the border, everyone gets out and we change to an Austrian train that will take us to Vienna. There are no checks or controls, there haven't been since Hungary joined the EU's zone of passport-free movement in 2007. Before they crossed to Austria, the migrants are greeted by Hungarian citizens who've come out not only with food and water, but they've piled coats and shoes on the platform. It feels like an outdoor flea market as people try on clothes. Back in the Austrian train, Alzoubi says he will try to go to Sweden where he already has some friends. He smiles as we head toward Vienna.

ALZOUBI: It's very nice actually. Now, we are passing the Hungarian border, yes. Now we are relief. Now, we all have the - my friends here - no, I can't believe it.

BEARDSLEY: This weekend, the arduous journeys of 14,000 other migrants came to an end as their new lives in Europe began. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News on the train from Budapest to Vienna. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.