30/05/2017

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Germany, Turkey to Intensify Illegal Immigration Fight

  • Monday, 01 February 2016 07:09

Merkel has refused to restrict asylum conditions and has sought to persuade Turkey to crack down on people smuggling
BERLIN—Germany and Turkey on Friday pledged to intensify efforts to fight illegal immigration, as Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted that she wouldn’t backtrack on her open-door refugee policy.

Speaking after a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and amid pressure at home and abroad to bring down migrant numbers, Ms. Merkel denied that she had become isolated in her pursuit of a European solution to the crisis.

“Deep down, I’m very much convinced that the issue of illegal migration can only be solved if we cooperate, fight the causes of [migration] and if we in the European Union have a great interest in maintaining the [border-free] Schengen zone,” Ms. Merkel said. “This means, national solutions, every state for itself, won’t take us forward. Instead, we need a pan-European approach.”

Ms. Merkel has refused to restrict asylum conditions for migrants and has instead sought to persuade Turkey, the main point of transit from migrants from the Middle East, to crack down on people smuggling through its territory.

But she is under mounting pressure from the German public, her political allies at home and her European counterparts to reduce the number of migrants, now in the thousands, who enter Germany every day.

While many Germans initially welcomed refugees with open arms last fall, the public mood has changed, with recent polls suggesting a majority now in favor of closing the country’s borders.

In what has been described as the biggest influx of people since World War II, Germany alone has seen nearly 1.1 million migrants arrive in the country last year. The latest numbers suggest the influx of migrants has come mainly via Turkey to the EU and isn’t abating.

Almost 36,000 people arrived in Greece illegally by sea since the beginning of the year, compared with less than 1,500 refugees in January 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration.

“The number suggests that the number of maritime arrivals in Greece in 2016 may significantly exceed the record 853,650 migrants who arrived in Greece by sea in 2015,” IOM said in a statement earlier this week.

Already, 95 people have died this year trying to cross the Aegean from Turkey to Greece, the Geneva-based organization said. The route claimed more than 800 lives last year.

“We can’t accept that illegal traffickers operating between Turkey and Greece have gained control and repeatedly put their own and others’ lives at risk,” Ms. Merkel said at a news conference.

Analysts said close cooperation with Turkey is crucial to curb the influx of migrants.

“The European Union must cooperate with Turkey if it wants to prevent a second or third summer with huge number of refugees of more than one million,” said Günter Seufert, an expert on Turkey with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs SWP.

According to a joint German-Turkish communiqué, Turkey pledged to undertake “all possible efforts to substantially reduce the number of irregular migrants in the near future.”

Still, Turkey’s prime minister said his country will maintain its welcoming policy toward people fleeing the civil war in Syria. He also said the current migration crisis isn’t a German, Turkish or European crisis but global one.

“Turkey can’t cope with this problem alone. We must act together,” Mr. Davutoglu said.

EU officials have criticized Turkey for not doing enough to reduce migration despite a deal reached between the bloc and Turkey last November, under which Turkey would get €3 billion in aid to accommodate migrants and get concessions in negotiations over the country’s potential accession to the EU. Part of the agreement was also to speed work on the country’s bid to win visa-free access to the EU.

While Turkey had pledged to combat illegal immigration to Europe, the influx of migrants to Europe has barely dropped. Likewise, the EU has yet to meet its promise of paying out the €3 billion in support to Turkey due to Italian objections to co-finance the fund for Syrian refugees, a goal Ms. Merkel reiterated on Friday.

“I pledged once again today that we Europeans will provide the €3 billion,” Ms. Merkel said.

Turkey rejects European charges that it isn’t living up to its pledge to stem the westward exodus of mostly Syrian refugees, arguing that Turkey is doing its best to balance humanitarian responsibilities while combating illegal migration.

Ms. Merkel insisted that Europe must help refugees stranded in Jordan and Syria if it doesn’t want them to come to Europe. She also said that Europe stands by the financial support promised to Turkey to help the country tackle the “big task” of accommodating the 2.5 million Syrians living in the country.

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