4 European nations strongly rebuff mandatory migrant quotas

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VIENNA (AP) -- The migrant crisis is "probably the biggest challenge for the European Union in its history," Germany's foreign minister declared Friday - but despite his warning, at least four Central European nations firmly rejected an EU proposal for mandatory refugee quotas.

As German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke in Prague, a trickle of migrants marching toward Vienna swelled into a torrent Friday as thousands engulfed a major Austrian highway. Police briefly closed the A4 expressway to Vienna to vehicles because of the potential dangers posed by so many people on its shoulders.

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Steinmeier had urged fellow EU nations to give more help to those seeking safety in Europe. Germany has already seen 450,000 migrants enter the country and is expecting at least 800,000 this year, the most in Europe.

"No single country can resolve such a challenge alone - we need European solidarity," he told reporters in the Czech capital.

Despite Germany's leading role in the 28-nation bloc, the minister failed to persuade his Czech, Slovak, Polish and Hungarian counterparts to drop their objections to a proposed EU-wide quota system to help migrants already in the EU's most overburdened nations.

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4 European nations strongly rebuff mandatory migrant quotas
NICKELSDORF, AUSTRIA - SEPTEMBER 05: Migrants wait for buses to take them onwards into Austria after they crossed the border from Hungary into Austria on September 5, 2015 near Nickelsdorf, Austria. Last night the Hungarian government ordered a fleet of buses to take migrants who had been stranded by the cancellation of international trains at the main Keleti Railway Station and also to collect migrants that had began a walk from Budapest yesterday along the M1 motorway to Austria. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
NICKELSDORF, AUSTRIA - SEPTEMBER 05: Migrants wait for buses to take them onwards into Austria after they crossed the border from Hungary into Austria on September 5, 2015 near Nickelsdorf, Austria. Last night the Hungarian government ordered a fleet of buses to take migrants who had been stranded by the cancellation of international trains at the main Keleti Railway Station and also to collect migrants that had began a walk from Budapest yesterday along the M1 motorway to Austria. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
NICKELSDORF, AUSTRIA - SEPTEMBER 05: Migrants wait for buses to take them onwards into Austria after they crossed the border from Hungary into Austria on September 5, 2015 near Nickelsdorf, Austria. Last night the Hungarian government ordered a fleet of buses to take migrants who had been stranded by the cancellation of international trains at the main Keleti Railway Station and also to collect migrants that had began a walk from Budapest yesterday along the M1 motorway to Austria. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
NICKELSDORF, AUSTRIA - SEPTEMBER 05: Migrants pass as vehicles queue to cross the border from Hungary into Austria on September 5, 2015 near Nickelsdorf, Austria. Last night the Hungarian government ordered a fleet of buses to take migrants who had been stranded by the cancellation of international trains at the main Keleti Railway Station and also to collect migrants that had began a walk from Budapest yesterday along the M1 motorway to Austria. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
NICKELSDORF, AUSTRIA - SEPTEMBER 05: A migrant looks out of the window of a bus that is queuing to cross the border from Hungary into Austria on September 5, 2015 near Nickelsdorf, Austria. Last night the Hungarian government ordered a fleet of buses to take migrants who had been stranded by the cancellation of international trains at the main Keleti Railway Station and also to collect migrants that had began a walk from Budapest yesterday along the M1 motorway to Austria. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
NICKELSDORF, AUSTRIA - SEPTEMBER 05: Migrants take a selfie as they wait for buses to take them onwards into Austria after they crossed the border from Hungary into Austria on September 5, 2015 near Nickelsdorf, Austria. Last night the Hungarian government ordered a fleet of buses to take migrants who had been stranded by the cancellation of international trains at the main Keleti Railway Station and also to collect migrants that had began a walk from Budapest yesterday along the M1 motorway to Austria. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Migrants arrive on the Hungarian-Austrian border near Nickelsdorf in early hours on September 5, 2015, from where they wish to head to Salzburg on the German-Austrian border. The first bus carrying migrants who have been stranded in the Hungarian capital reached the Austrian border early September 5, after Vienna and Berlin agreed to take in thousands of refugees desperate to start new lives in Western Europe. Some 2,500-3,000 migrants have entered Austria from Hungary in the past few hours, Austrian police said early September 5. AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
A migrant carries a child on his shoulders upon arrival at the Westbahnhof railroadstation in Vienna, on September 5, 2015 as hundreds of migrants arrive by bus and train from Hungary to continue their journey to Germany. Hungary, which has become one of the newest flashpoints in Europe's migrant crisis, began bussing people who had been stuck in the capital Budapest. AFP PHOTO / DIETER NAGL (Photo credit should read DIETER NAGL/AFP/Getty Images)
Migrants walk on a road to enter Austria in early hours on September 5, 2015 at the village of Nickelsdorf at the Hungarian-Austrian border from where they head to Salzburg on the German-Austrian border. The refugees began arriving at the Austrian border in the night after Hungary, which has become one of the newest flashpoints in Europe's migrant crisis, began bussing people who had been stuck in the capital Budapest. AFP PHOTO / JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
A migrants carries a child as they arrive at the Hungarian-Austrian border in Nickelsdorf, Austria, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, where they came from Budapest as Austria in the early-morning hours said it and Germany would let them in. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A woman and her children sit as they have boarded a bus provided by Hungarian authorities for migrants and refugees at Keleti train station in Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015. Hundreds of migrants boarded buses provided by Hungary's government as Austria in the early-morning hours said it and Germany would let them in. Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann announced the decision early Saturday after speaking with Angela Merkel, his German counterpart - not long after Hungary's surprise nighttime move to provide buses for the weary travelers from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)
Migrants arrive at the Hungarian-Austrian border in Nickelsdorf, Austria, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, where they came from Budapest as Austria in the early-morning hours said it and Germany would let them in. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A migrant raises his arms after arriving at the border station between Hegyeshalom, Hungary, and Nickelsdorf, Austria, Saturday morning Sept. 5, 2015, as hundreds of migrants came from Budapest as Austria in the early-morning hours said it and Germany would let them in. (AP Photo/Christian Bruna)
A woman with a sleeping child on her lap smiles after arriving at the border station between Hegyeshalom, Hungary, and Nickelsdorf, Austria, Saturday morning Sept. 5, 2015, as hundreds of migrants came from Budapest as Austria in the early-morning hours said it and Germany would let them in. (AP Photo/Christian Bruna)
A boy smiles as migrants arrive at the Hungarian-Austrian border in Nickelsdorf, Austria, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, where they came from Budapest as Austria in the early-morning hours said it and Germany would let them in. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Migrants arrive at the Hungarian-Austrian border in Nickelsdorf, Austria, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, where they came from Budapest as Austria in the early-morning hours said it and Germany would let them in. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Migrants queue as they arrive in an emergency shelter at the Hungarian-Austrian border in Nickelsdorf, Austria, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, where they arrived in buses provided by Hungary's government from Budapest as Austria in the early-morning hours said it and Germany would let them in. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
Migrants are on a bus as it stops at a petrol station near Gyoer, Hungary, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015. Hundreds of migrants, exhausted after breaking away from police and marching for hours toward Western Europe, boarded buses provided by Hungary's government as Austria in the early-morning hours said it and Germany would let them in. Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann announced the decision early Saturday after speaking with Angela Merkel, his German counterpart - not long after Hungary's surprise nighttime move to provide buses for the weary travelers from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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"We need to have control over how many (migrants) we are capable of accepting," said Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek, who hosted the meeting.

A frustrated Steinmeier left the joint news conference early, allegedly due to a busy schedule.

The plan to share 120,000 refugees now in Greece, Italy and Hungary among the EU's 28 nations was unveiled Wednesday by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and will be debated Oct. 8 during an emergency EU interior ministers' meeting. An earlier plan to share 40,000 other asylum-seekers among EU nations is expected to get the ministers' final approval on Monday.

Friday's foot march began after rail traffic to Vienna from the Nickelsdorf crossing was sharply reduced due to overcrowding. Buses and taxis then were called to Nickelsdorf to take migrants to Vienna, but thousands decided not to wait and headed off on the 40-mile (60-kilometer) trek.

The march petered out a few hours after it began, as Austrian police and emergency crews persuaded migrants there would be enough buses to Vienna eventually.

The Austrian capital, however, has only been a transit point for many of those arriving over the past week. Most have gone on to Germany. In Munich, authorities said more than 40,000 people have arrived over the past six days.

Tens of thousands of people, many from war-torn Syria, have traveled across the eastern flank of Europe this summer, from Turkey to Greece by sea, over land in Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Austria. Tense bottlenecks have developed at those borders, especially since Hungary began building a fence to keep the migrants out.

Hans Peter Doskozil, the police chief of eastern Burgenland, said on Thursday alone 7,500 people had crossed into Austria at Nickelsdorf - a number that apparently overwhelmed the Austrian Federal Railways.

Regular trains from Nickelsdorf continued Friday to other Austrian destinations, including Vienna, but the railway company ended its special shuttles for the migrants to Vienna. That shutdown came on top of the company's suspension Thursday of all train service toward Vienna from the Hungarian capital, Budapest, where thousands have overwhelmed the train station.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been criticized by other EU leaders and human rights groups for what they say is gross mismanagement in housing, feeding and processing the migrants.

Human Rights Watch on Friday released a video from inside a holding facility at the Hungarian border town of Roszke. Metal fences surrounded clusters of tents and divided migrants into groups. Border guards were shown throwing food into the air for desperate migrants to grab.

Peter Bouckaert of the rights group claimed that Hungary was keeping migrants and refugees "in pens like animals, out in the sun without food and water."

Amer Zein, a 31-year-old barman from the Syrian city of Aleppo who crossed into Macedonia on Friday, said he was determined to push on to Germany with his wife, brother and a friend, despite the problems he had heard of in Hungary.

We heard they are hitting people," he said. "We will sit and do whatever the police tell us. We are afraid but we must get through."

Orban defended his government's actions, saying Hungary had little choice but to let people move deeper into Western Europe because they had mounted a concerted rebellion against Hungarian authorities, refusing to stay in state-run shelters and clogging Budapest's central train station, Keleti.

"The illegal immigrants have occupied the train station. They won't give fingerprints. They don't cooperate. They are not willing to go to the places where they receive provisions: food, water, shelter, health care. They have risen up against Hungary's legal order," he told a Budapest news conference.

Orban expressed hope that his get-tough border security measures, scheduled to begin Tuesday, would limit the flow of migrants and make it easier for Hungary to regain control of its asylum system. He said Hungary intended to catch, convict and imprison people who continued to go under, over or through its recently erected border barriers.

"If they don't cross into Hungary territory legally, we will consider it a crime," Orban said.

He also blamed Greece for letting in so many migrants and urged other EU nations to send reinforcements to help Greece control its porous border.

The International Organization for Migration has put the figure of those arriving in Europe this year at more than 432,000.

Also in Budapest, a Hungarian camerawoman caught on video kicking and tripping migrants near the Serbian border offered a qualified apology Friday. In a letter in the Magyar Nemzet newspaper, Petra Laszlo said she was "sincerely sorry for what happened," but added: "I was scared as they streamed toward me, and then something snapped inside me."

The 40-year-old was fired by the right-wing N1TV online channel after footage went viral. Police have released Laszlo without charges after questioning her on suspicion of disorderly conduct. They say the investigation is continuing.

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Geir Moulson and David Rising in Berlin, Shawn Pogatchnik in Budapest, Elena Becatoros in Greece, Jamie Keaten in Geneva, Costas Kantouris in Idomeni, Greece and Philip Jenne in Nickelsdorf, Austria, contributed to this story.

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