Weary migrants were finally able to cross Hungary’s border with Austria on Saturday after the Budapest government gave up its efforts to stop them.
Defiantly, hundreds had set out for the frontier on foot.
But they were finally bussed to the border in vehicles provided by overwhelmed Hungarian authorities, unable to deter the migrants and refugees from pursuing their quest for a new life in western Europe.
Hungary cited traffic safety for the decision.
But it appeared to mark an admission that the government had lost control in the face of huge numbers determined to reach western Europe having fled war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
“Because of today’s emergency situation on the Hungarian border, Austria and Germany agree in this case to a continuation of the refugees’ journey into their countries,” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said on his Facebook page.
Dropped off at the frontier, the first group walked into Austria in the early hours of Saturday to be met by the Red Cross.
Austria’s Red Cross said it expected between 800 to 1,500 people to arrive in its refugee reception centre of Nickelsdorf at the Hungarian border overnight.
Budapest railway station, for days a campsite of migrants barred from taking trains west to Austria and Germany, rapidly emptied as smiling families boarded a huge queue of busses.
Many others had already started making their own way on foot, frustrated at days of delays as Hungary insisted they must first be registered in line with EU rules.
Rising tensions erupted on Friday.
Hundreds broke out of an overcrowded camp on Hungary’s border with Serbia; others escaped a stranded train being guarded by police.
A Pakistani migrant died after collapsing on the railway tracks according to police.
More than 140,000 migrants have been recorded entering Hungary so far this year through the EU’s external border with Serbia where the Hungarian government is building a 3.5-metre high wall. Countless others may have entered without registering.
On Friday, Hungary’s parliament adopted some of a raft of measures creating “transit zones” on the border, where asylum seekers would be held until their requests are processed and deported if denied.
The measures introduce jail terms for those who cross the border without permission or damage the fence, and may eventually provide for the use of the army.
Nonetheless, this weekend Hungary’s crackdown crumbled, faced with migrants and refugees unflinching in their resolve to reach Austria and, for many, to then head to Germany to start a new life.