The road to Budapest: migrants journey through Hungarian night

ON THE SERBIAN-HUNGARIAN BORDER (Hungary) (AFP) - In the darkness they come, dozens of migrants appearing out of corn fields and along the railway from neighbouring Serbia, their faces illuminated by the flashing lights of police cars.

A few minutes later the disparate groups join into a huge column that marches down the motorway to Budapest, their path littered with blankets, shoes and food abandoned by those who have gone before them.

The migrants, mainly from Syria, who have made their way along the roads of Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia in the hope of reaching Western Europe, chant "Syria, Syria" and "(refugee) camps -- it's over" as they march.

In front of them, the road is blocked by Hungarian police wearing hygiene masks.

"We don't want to live any longer in the camps in Hungary or elsewhere, the conditions are horrible. It's too cold and everything is dirty, and it smells bad," says a young Syrian from Damascus.

Tensions begin to rise -- the migrants wave their hands in the air, chanting "We want to go, let us go" and "Germany, Germany" to the police.

"It was Germany that sent you here," shouts one officer in response, while another presses his hand on a migrant's face, ordering him to shut up.

The standoff falters and the migrants manage to push their way past the police, carrying their meagre possessions in plastic bags, their children asleep in their arms as they continue the long walk to the Hungarian capital.

- Taxis and tear gas -

A few kilometres (miles) away stands the border village of Roszke, its shuttered houses surrounded by vast agricultural fields, where the church bells mark the hours of the night indifferent to the crowds marching by.

On the road, Austrian volunteers brave the cold to distribute hot food and bottles of water to the migrants, many of whom are wrapped in blankets to guard against temperatures as low as minus four degrees Celsius (25 degrees Fahrenheit).

Hungarian police call for reinforcements as more groups of migrants flood across the railway line in a seemingly never-ending stream.

Two hundred metres (yards) away, the Syrians arrive at a petrol station where trucks and cars are parked. "We are looking for taxis," says one youth, adding: "They ask for 200 euros ($225) per family to drive us up to Budapest."

Suddenly, a cry cuts through the night.

Barely 50 metres away, several hundred migrants have once again been stopped on their road to Budapest by Hungarian authorities -- this time by a bus on which is written "transit line", illuminated by a dim yellow light, sent to take them back to camps on the Serbian border.

Most refuse angrily, instead sitting down on the tarmac. The few that do board the bus are booed by their companions. Tensions flare and water bottles are thrown at police, who respond with tear gas.

Men call for help as they carry the unconscious body of a young man hit by the gas. After several minutes he is evacuated by ambulance, watched by crowds of other migrants from the side of the road and the bus.

Around them, the police lights still illuminate the scene.