Europe

Migrants flood trains in desperate bid to leave Italy

A volunteer talks to a group of migrants as police officers stand in front of the door of a train bound for Munich, Germany, at Bolzano railway station Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The platforms at Bolzano station are often crowded with disappointed migrants

As Italy struggles to cope with the Mediterranean migration crisis, its Alpine region of South Tyrol is facing an increasing stream of migrants who try to get to Germany or Scandinavia, through Austria.

As the Venice to Munich express pulled in at Bolzano station, the Italian police were there to meet it.

Bolzano is the last major stop in Italy before the Austrian border.

The police had been tipped off about a large group of migrants who were hoping to go to Germany. The migrants didn't have the correct documents to cross the border so, one by one, they were quietly escorted off the train.

Lindsay, a language student from Australia, was on board and told me what happened.

"Some officials came on, they were obviously checking for passports or papers. There were six or seven Africans who stood up and raced down the other end of the train."

Next to Lindsay was a family of Syrians, travelling with babies and small children.

"They were asked for papers. They produced some passports, which looked very brand new. The official leafed through the passports and there was not a single stamp in them. And then he asked the family to stand up and herded them off the train.

"I did feel sorry for the people and even more sorry for the children, who had no idea what was going on, but they knew something was wrong," Lindsay said.

Image caption This Syrian family was escorted from the train by police
Image caption They were separated from their relatives and now face an uncertain future

Scenes like this are becoming commonplace in Bolzano.

A little while later, I approached the Syrians, as they stood on the platform.

One of them, Ahmad from Aleppo, told me they had crossed the Mediterranean in a small boat from Libya to Sicily.

But now, after the police check in Bolzano, his family had been separated. His brother and several other relatives had been allowed to stay on the train to Munich.

Ahmad and the rest of the family were now stranded - with little money and nowhere to go.

With tears in his eyes, Ahmad said: "We want to get to Germany."

Share the burden

Ahmad and his family were given food and some basic legal advice by a local charity, Voluntarius, which works at the station.

The charity has helped thousands of people here over the last few months, but more people are arriving every day.

Waltraud Kranebitter, who works as a volunteer, said she has heard some terrible stories about "how people are suffering in their own country". She said she understands why some people risk their lives to get to Europe.

She told me that the EU needs to work harder to make sure that people stay in their own countries, but "once they are here, they are here".

"You can't push them back," she added.

Under European Union law migrants or refugees should be processed in the country in which they first arrive.

The governor of South Tyrol, Arno Kompatcher, admits that "it may sometimes be true" that the Italian authorities turn a blind eye for migrants hoping to travel over the border to northern Europe.

The migrants keep trying "three or four times till they get to Austria," he said.

But he says the rest of the EU has to help share the burden.

"It is a question of solidarity. We should work altogether, all the European countries, to solve these problems. Italy cannot deal alone with all these people coming from Africa and the Middle East," he said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Some migrants do manage to successfully cross the border

Back at the station, Ahmad and his family decided to try again to reach Munich, to be reunited with their relatives.

They boarded the next train heading north, to Innsbruck in Austria.

I followed them. It was a nervous journey.

No one stopped them as they crossed into Austria. At Innsbruck station there was a long wait for the next train for Munich.

Once in Germany, they hoped to apply for asylum.

But before that, they had another border to cross.

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