Merkel faces down far-right 'mob' on refugee centre visit

26th August 2015, Comments 0 comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed Wednesday there would be no tolerance for "shameful and vile" anti-migrant violence, facing down a noisy far-right protest during a visit to a refugee centre.

About 200 people massed in the eastern town of Heidenau, some booing and shouting "traitor, traitor" and "we are the mob" as she arrived at the shelter, in a show of defiance over a record influx of asylum-seekers.

But following her visit, Merkel vowed: "There will be no tolerance of those who question the dignity of other people."

"The more people who make that clear... the stronger we will be and the better we will be able to address this task" of caring for refugees.

The showdown in Germany came as chaotic scenes erupted at Hungary's border town of Roszke with police firing tear gas at migrants.

Police had sought to stop around 200 people 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.

Hamstrung by a lack of a coherent European response to the crisis, governments have undertaken at times contradictory approaches to the issue.

Hungary is building a wall to keep migrants out, while the Czech Republic's deputy prime minister Andrej Babis called for the visa-free Schengen zone be closed with NATO deployment.

Germany, which is preparing to receive a record 800,000 asylum-seekers this year, instead eased the asylum application procedure for Syrians fleeing a brutal civil war.

Natasha Bertaud, spokeswoman for the EU Commission, said Berlin'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.

But Berlin's largesse was not always welcomed at home, particularly in the east where a spate of attacks has hit refugee centres.

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.

- Hungary sends in police -

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 Roszke after they tried to leave without being fingerprinted.

Hungary's police chief said more than 2,100 police called "border hunters" would be deployed to the border with Serbia from September 5.

Rushing to get through before Hungary seals its border are Syrians, Afghans and Pakistanis, including more than 500 children.

"We left because we were scared, we had fear, bombs, war, killing, death... That's why we left Syria," one Syrian man heading for the Hungarian border told AFP.

"If I go to Europe, I think it's going to be better... better than my life in Syria."

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 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.

- Floods and umbrellas -

As criticism mounted 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 told Corriere della Sera.

Merkel, at talks on Monday with French President Francois Hollande, warned that it would be intolerable if registration centres for newly-arrived migrants in Italy and Greece 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.

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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© 2015 AFP

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