MUNICH, Germany – A man walks by and wipes a tear away from each eye.
Who knows what’s he been through or how many miles he is from home. He is a stranger in a new land, taking his first steps of a new life.
Hundreds of migrants and refugees — like this man — this week filled a train station here in Munich, hoping that this stop could be one of their last ones on their grueling journey from lives of war, violence, poverty and oppression.
CNN has been following thousands who arrived by boat in Greece, traveled on to Macedonia and Serbia, then moved on to Hungary. The southeastern German city of Munich was their latest stop, landing them in the heart of Europe and in a country with one of the world’s strongest economies.
They are among thousands who have made such a voyage (and hundreds more who died along the way), producing Europe’s largest migrant crisis since World War II. This rush of people has challenged countries throughout Europe, including more prosperous ones that are prime destinations for those in search of a better life.
Afghan woman: ‘We are very happy’
Germany is a top choice, given its economic opportunity and inclusion in the EU.
While migrants are supposed to apply for asylum in the first EU country they land in, Germany appears to have relaxed its policy. These changes include letting some migrants apply for asylum even without documentation.
This policy has given people hope.
Many spent the last of their money just to get to get here. Others have put their lands in the hands of smugglers or Mother Nature or the perils of such an arduous trip, just to have a chance.
“We are very happy that we are here right now,” one young woman from Afghanistan told CNN. “(The journey) was very hard for us. It took us more than a month. And in Hungary, my mother got very sick, and she was in the hospital.”
A Pakistani man looking forward to a “bright future” in Germany says it’s been worth it.
“I am really very happy,” he said.
Police, volunteers, officials warmly greet migrants
Almost every new train arriving in Munich brings another batch of people seeking a better life. They are greeted warmly by officials, by a “Welcome” banner overhead and police who hand out water and food and direct them to the station’s parking lot.
This parking lot now features a state-of-the-art processing center, run by officials and volunteers.
“We have been out here since 7 last night,” said volunteer Hajo Tille. “There really have been some very emotional scenes that we have witnessed.”
The new arrivals get medical checks and then are escorted onto buses and taken to temporary accommodation. The authorities are clearly doing their best to prevent some of the chaos that these people endured in other places and taking them to shelters as fast as possible.
“The police here … have been facing a big challenge for months now. We have been bringing in reinforcements for weeks” Munich police spokesman Matthias Knott said. “The situation will remain a big challenge, but we will solve it somehow.”
Not everyone will make it here. But for those who do get to Munich, they have the benefit of knowing, right away, that they won’t be doing it alone.
CNN’s Jessica King contributed to this report.
By Frederik Pleitgen and Antonia Mortensen