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Merkel to visit refugee home as Hungary fires tear gas at migrants

26 August 2015, 13:57

Berlin - German Chancellor Angela Merkel will on Wednesday visit a refugee centre hit by violent far-right protests, as Hungarian police fired tear gas at migrants near a key border crossing for thousands.

Chaotic scenes erupted at Hungary's border town of Roeszke, with police moved to stop around 200 migrants trying to leave the country's main refugee processing centre there.

Budapest said it would send in police reinforcements to stem a record influx of asylum-seekers, as more than 2,500 people crossed into the EU country from its southern frontier with Serbia, days before a vast razor-wire barrier aimed at keeping out migrants is completed.

Europe is struggling to cope with its biggest migrant crisis since World War II -- from thousands of refugees landing on the shores of Italy and Greece to the hundreds climbing onto trucks to get from France to Britain.

As Germany prepares to receive a record 800,000 asylum-seekers this year, anti-migrant sentiment has surfaced with a spate of attacks against refugee centres.

Two attacks against shelters were reported just hours before Merkel was due to visit a refugee home hit by far-right protests in the eastern town of Heidenau.

President Joachim Gauck blasted a "dark Germany" behind the series of xenophobic attacks, as German leaders went on the offensive to quell the wave of anti-migrant violence.

Merkel's trip comes as Germany on Tuesday said it had stopped returning Syrian asylum-seekers to their first EU port of entry, becoming the first member state to effectively simplify the application process for those fleeing the brutal civil war.

Natasha Bertaud, spokeswoman for the EU Commission, said Germany's move was "recognition of the fact that we cannot leave the member states at the external borders alone in dealing with a large number of asylum-seekers".

Under the so-called Dublin rules, the first EU country where an asylum-seeker arrives is usually required to process the claimant's application.

In practice, this means countries on the EU's southern borders like Greece or Italy are overwhelmed with applications as thousands arrive after a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.

Hungary, another country on the edge of the EU, is rushing to build a vast razor-wire barrier to keep migrants out.

Police fired tear gas at migrants at a refugee processing centre in Roeszke after they tried to leave without being fingerprinted.

Hungary's police chief said Wednesday more than 2,100 police would be sent to the border with Serbia from September 5.

The European Commission had said it stood ready to provide Hungary with emergency EU facilities.

Some of the refugees arriving in Hungary count among the 7,000 whose gruelling journey to the EU was temporarily blocked last week when Macedonia declared a state of emergency and shut its borders for three days to halt the huge influx.

The UN refugee agency has said it expected the number of refugees moving through Macedonia to double to 3,000 a day, many of them children.

It warned that the situation was also worsening in Greece and Italy, where the number of people arriving after crossing the Mediterranean this year is approaching 300,000.

Since the beginning of 2015, more than 2,370 people have drowned in the Mediterranean, already exceeding the death toll for the whole of 2014, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

As criticism mounts on the EU for failing to find a response to the crisis, Italy hit back at Germany and France over their claims that it was moving too slowly on the pressing issue.

"Italy is doing what it has to do ... and even much more by saving thousands of lives and by taking in refugees," Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said in an interview with Wednesday's Corriere della Sera, describing his country as "a positive model on the international stage."

Merkel, at talks on Monday with French President Francois Hollande, publicly rebuked Italy and Greece over the pace of progress in establishing registration centres for newly-arrived migrants, warning it would be intolerable if the centres, approved at an EU summit in June, were not operational by the end of the year.

"Asking Greece and Italy to do their duty on immigration is like asking a country hit by floods to step up the production of umbrellas," Gentiloni said.

"Europe needs to go in exactly the opposite direction from attacking the countries situated on its external borders."

Leaders from the western Balkans will attend a Vienna summit on Thursday joined by Merkel, in a bid to find a coherent approach to deal with the crisis.

The western Balkans has now become one of the main routes into the EU.

About 4,000 migrants were massed at a camp in Presevo in Serbia, waiting to be registered before they attempt to cross into Hungary and onward to more prosperous EU countries like Germany or Sweden.

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