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Austria to End Measures Letting Refugees Pass Through Freely

Vienna's decision closes off one of the main routes for thousands of refugees and migrants stranded in Hungary.
Image: Refugees at Vienna's Westbahnhof railway station
Refugees wait at Vienna's Westbahnhof train station Sunday to board trains for Germany.Anadolu Agency / Getty Images Contributor

Austria said Sunday it plans to end emergency measures that opened its borders — closing off one of the main routes for thousands of refugees and migrants stranded in Hungary.

Austria had suspended its random border checks after photographs of a Syrian toddler lying dead on a Turkish beach showed Europeans the horror faced by those desperate enough to travel illegally into the heart of Europe, which is deeply divided over how to cope.

After 71 people suffocated in the back of a truck abandoned on an Austrian highway en route from Hungary — and as thousands of people headed from Budapest toward Austria on foot — Vienna had agreed with Germany to waive rules requiring refugees to register an asylum claim in the first E.U. country they reach.

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said that decision was being revised following "intensive talks" with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a telephone call with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is bitterly opposed to the waiver.

"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," Faymann said. "Now we have to move step by step away from emergency measures towards normality, in conformity with the law and dignity."

Image: Abandoned truck on Austrian motorway contained more than 70 bodies.
A police officer walks by a truck discovered abandoned on an Austrian motorway containing more than 70 bodies as it sits at a customs building with refrigeration facilities in the village of Nickelsdorf, Austria, Aug. 28.HEINZ-PETER BADER / Reuters

The decision comes as thousands more refugees and migrants streamed into Germany on Sunday — many of them traveling through Austria from Hungary. They had been stranded there against their will for days while E.U. governments argued over how to respond.

Related: Thousands of Refugees Arrive in Germany After Journey From Hungary

Many had journeyed from Syria, setting out to walk the 110-mile stretch through the rain from Hungary's capital, Budapest, to the Austrian border, from where many would continue onto Germany.

Migrants and refugees who were still in Serbia over the weekend rushed to cross into Hungary after hearing that Germany and Austria would accept people coming from the nation.

Many told NBC News they had heard they would face prison if caught by Hungarian authorities, while a few said they thought they would be shot. Others simply said they didn't want to get sent back to Serbia if caught by Hungarians.

Now, the Austrian conduit is about to close.

More than 2,000 people have already died in the Mediterranean Sea so far this year. The Cypriot coast guard picked up 114 more Syrians who were adrift in a fishing boat Sunday.