Merkel urges Germans to welcome Syrian refugees

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A sign that reads "Refugees Welcome" hangs opposite a former high school now housing asylum seekers in the district of Hellersdorf-Marzahn in Berlin, Germany on August 21, 2013.

Chancellor Angela Merkel Thursday called on Germans to welcome thousands of Syrian refugees due to begin arriving next month, as a new political refugee centre in Berlin stokes anti-foreigner sentiment.

Germany announced earlier in the year that it was ready to take in another 5,000 Syrians seeking refuge from the war-torn country.

"I ask people in Germany to welcome them here since everyone knows what they have been through," Merkel told the Mittelbayerische Zeitung daily in an interview.

"Germany is standing by the refugees as best it can," she said.

Merkel, who will fight for a third term in September 22 elections, also told the paper that since 2012 Germany had provided 340 million euros ($450 million) in humanitarian aid to the victims of the conflict in Syria.

Berlin said in March it would grant asylum to 3,000 Syrians from June at the latest, followed by another 2,000 later in the year, in response to an "increasingly difficult" situation.

The offer would bring to about 13,000 the number of Syrian refugees taken in since the start of 2012.

Last week riot police had to separate neo-Nazi protestors from anti-fascist supporters who had gathered near a new asylum seekers' centre in the German capital.

One officer was injured by a bottle thrown in his face and 25 people were arrested, one for making an illegal straight-armed Hitler salute.

Some 80 people, from Afghanistan, Syria and Serbia, have already arrived at the centre which is expected to host about 200 eventually.

The number of asylum seekers in Germany has risen to 52,754 people so far this year – 90 percent more than in the same period last year.