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Austria to close borders again after letting 12,000 refugees pass

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Ina Fassbender/Reuters

(Read caption) A girl looks out from a bus on her way to a refugee camp after arriving via train into Dortmund, Germany on Sunday. Austria and Germany threw open their borders to thousands of exhausted migrants on Saturday, bused across Hungary by a right-wing government that had tried to stop them but was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers reaching Europe's frontiers.

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It was only supposed to be a temporary solution.

After throwing open its border with Hungary on Saturday, allowing thousands of relieved migrants to pass through, Austria said on Sunday it would gradually end the emergency measures.

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Leaders of Austria and Germany had agreed to take busloads of refugees who’d been stranded for days in Hungary as their governments debated how to respond.

Austria and Germany also agreed to waive the normal process that requires refugees to apply for asylum as soon as they enter the European Union – but warned that after the hiatus, Hungary would again have to handle asylum seekers within its own borders. As Hungary is the first EU nation many migrants reach, its government has struggled to process the thousands of pages of required paperwork, creating the backlog that led to the temporary busing solution.

On Saturday night, more than 100 buses were filled with migrants from Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan, most hoping to settle in Germany or Austria.

The border crisis has provoked both enormous sympathy and virulent anti-Muslim resentment among Europeans, reports Reuters.

As a group of more than 600 refugees pulled into Munich early morning on Sunday, about a dozen people bearing chocolate and bananas were there to greet them with smiles.

But not all migrants receive such warm welcomes, said Amnesty International researcher Barbora Cernusakova. 

"While Europe rejoiced in happy images from Austria and Germany yesterday, refugees crossing into Hungary right now see a very different picture: riot police and a cold, hard ground to sleep on," she said in a statement.

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Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said the decision to reinstate immigration rules came after "intensive talks" with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

"We have always said this is an emergency situation in which we must act quickly and humanely. We have helped more than 12,000 people in an acute situation," said Mr. Faymann. "Now we have to move step-by-step away from emergency measures toward normality, in conformity with the law and dignity."

Migrants who didn’t make it onto the buses on Saturday set off on foot, beginning a westward journey of about 110 miles. By Sunday, the platforms were filled once again.

This report contains material from wire services.