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France, Germany and Italy call for reform of asylum rules

Update: September, 03/2015 - 11:54

ROMEGermany, France and Italy called for an overhaul of laws on the right of asylum and a fairer distribution of migrants throughout the European Union, Italy's foreign minister said on Wednesday.

The foreign ministers of the three countries signed a joint letter emphasising "the shortcomings" of the current European asylum system.

In the letter, signed by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Paolo Gentiloni and Laurent Fabius, they called for "a fair distribution of refugees" throughout the European Union.

"The current refugee crisis is putting the European Union and all of its member states to a historic test. Over the past weeks, this crisis has become even more dramatic," it read.

"Europe must protect refugees in need of protection in a humane wayregardless of which EU country they arrive in."

The document was addressed to the EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, ahead of an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Friday and Saturday.

"A more efficient asylum system for persons in need of international protection goes hand-in-hand with a more efficient repatriation policy of irregular migrants at the EU level, with the aim of granting refugee status rapidly and efficiently to those who are genuinely in need of international protection," it said.

Tensions flare at Hungary station

Scuffles broke out between migrants and police in Hungary on Wednesday as thousands were left stranded at Budapest's main international train station, while the government called for clarification on Germany's asylum regime.

On Wednesday afternoon, the protesters, angry at reports of police removing migrants from the station to unspecified locations, ran up to a police line and began shouting and throwing plastic bottles. Traffic was blocked for around 15 minutes.

The officers were quickly reinforced by riot police, who donned helmets and after a tense standoff pushed the protesters back to stop them blocking the road. No one appeared to have been hurt, and calm gradually returned by nightfall.

The standoff was the latest and largest of several tense encounters between the crowds and police following Hungary's decision to prevent migrants travelling west on Tuesday, after several thousand boarded trains bound for Austria and Germany the previous day.

Hungary's government explained the U-turn by saying it was applying EU law after confusion caused by an easing of Germany's asylum regulations and called on Berlin's embassy to clarify the rules.

Sporadic fighting broke out between migrants on Wednesday, while taunts from a small group of far-right skinheads sparked some scuffles.

Earlier, tempers rose when the police suddenly moved in to clear a pathway in the "transit zone," a makeshift underground refugee camp where thousands have been sheltering on blankets in cramped conditions, looked after only by Hungarian volunteers.

The EU's so-called "Dublin" rules oblige refugees to claim asylum in the first EU country they reach, but news that Germany had waived those rules for Syrians last week has sparked a surge in migrants trying to reach Europe's largest economy.

The German embassy said that "Dublin" rules still apply, adding that "it would be very helpful if the (Hungarian) authorities communicated directly what the situation is to the people at Keleti, who might think they are able to go."

But Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff, Janos Lazar, said it was up to the embassy to "unambiguously clarify" Germany's position on asylum-seeking. — AFP



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