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Germany, France urge response to refugee crisis

Merkel said Germany and France also expected all EU members to conform with existing refugee policies

Published: Updated:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande called Monday for a “unified” response to the worst refugee crisis to hit the EU since World War II.

“We must put in place a unified system for the right to asylum,” Hollande said in a brief statement ahead of talks, calling the influx from the world’s crisis zones “an exceptional situation that will last for some time”.

Merkel, whose country expects a record 800,000 asylum applications this year, said Germany and France also expected all EU members to conform with existing refugee policies governing the bloc “as quickly as possible.”

Earlier on Monday, Merkel condemned violent protests against refugees that erupted over the weekend in eastern Germany, blaming neo-Nazis for spreading a “repulsive” message of hatred and local residents for supporting them.

More than 30 police were injured in clashes in Heidenau, near Dresden, early on Saturday when a mob of several hundred people, many of them drunk, began pelting officers with bottles and fireworks. Some of them shouted “Heil Hitler.”

The violence occurred after a far bigger crowd gathered to protest the arrival of 250 refugees at an asylum shelter in the town. The refugees, some fleeing wars in Afghanistan and Syria, told Reuters they had feared the mob would enter the shelter and attack them.

"They all held up their middle fingers," said Yakuma Fatty, 23, from Gambia. "We didn't expect that from Germany."

Migrant deaths

Also on Monday, Greece's coastguard said it had recovered the bodies of two migrants who drowned when their boat sank near the island of Lesbos, and was seeking five more who were missing.

Another eight people on the same boat were rescued, the coastguard said, without giving details on the nationality of the victims.

Lesbos is one of several Greek islands overwhelmed in recent weeks by an influx of migrants and refugees, mainly from war-torn Syria.

Some 160,000 migrants and refugees have landed on Greek shores since January, with the authorities criticized by the U.N. and humanitarian groups for poor preparation that has left thousands of them sleeping on the street.

Syrian refugees receive priority in securing passage off the islands, but other nationalities such as Afghans and Pakistanis are stranded for weeks waiting to be registered.

Clashes between migrants have repeatedly broken out on Lesbos with migrants desperate to leave the island and continue their journey to northern Europe.