Sunday 4 December 2016

Merkel stokes anger over migrant deal with Turkey

Colin Freeman in Trnovec

Published 20/10/2015 | 02:30

A woman cries as migrants and refugees wait to cross the Croatia-Slovenia border on October 19, 2015 in Trnovec. Slovenian authorities said they had refused to let in more than 1,000 migrants arriving from Croatia after a daily quota had been reached, stoking fears of a new human bottleneck on the western Balkan route. Getty
A woman cries as migrants and refugees wait to cross the Croatia-Slovenia border on October 19, 2015 in Trnovec. Slovenian authorities said they had refused to let in more than 1,000 migrants arriving from Croatia after a daily quota had been reached, stoking fears of a new human bottleneck on the western Balkan route. Getty

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, was in Turkey last night putting the finishing touches to measures to ease Europe's escalating migrant crisis.

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Ms Merkel had talks with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, hoping to persuade him to tighten Turkish border controls and improve conditions for Syrian refugees already living in Turkey.

In return, she has hinted at help in reviving Turkey's long-stalled bid to join the European Union, which Germany and many other European capitals had previously opposed.

The spectacle of Germany's leader effectively going cap-in-hand to Mr Erdogan was unlikely to welcomed by Ms Merkel's opponents at home, who are already angry at her for opening Germany's borders to what may be up to a million or more Syrian refugees this year alone.

Critics say it is effectively giving Mr Erdogan a way to force his country into the EU.

Yesterday, more than 10,000 migrants were stranded in cold and rain in Serbia, according to the UN refugee agency, as Croatia restricts their flow towards Western Europe.

Hellish

Regional UNHCR spokeswoman Melita Sunjic said about 10,000 migrants entered Serbia from Macedonia, more than the daily average over the past month.

She said that the bottleneck on the Serbian border with Croatia "created a domino effect" when Slovenia slowed down the flow of migrants over the Balkans by restricting their entry numbers to up to 2,500 a day.

Ms Sunjic described their situation as "awful and hellish".

She said: "These people are out in the open, they cannot sleep on the ground because of knee-deep mud."

It is understood that Croatia later opened the border, easing some of the pressure.

There had been angry scenes overnight as thousands of migrants found themselves held up in bad weather at border bottlenecks in the Balkans.

In western Croatia, up to 2,000 more spent the night on a train stranded near the border with fellow EU member Slovenia, which was refusing entry.

With Hungary closing its border with Croatia to migrants at midnight on Friday, the unrelenting flow has been diverted to Slovenia en route to Austria and Germany, the favoured destination for most migrants.

But Slovenia has imposed a daily limit of around 2,500, saying it will take in only as many as can exit into Austria.

Mrs Merkel's talks with Mr Erdogan follow the rubber-stamping last week of a €3.2bn aid package to give him greater help in hosting the two million Syrian refugees already living in Turkey.

Most are not allowed to officially work in Turkey, making it all the more tempting to travel west to Europe in search of better prospects.

In tandem with the aid package are moves to lift visa restrictions for Turks travelling to Europe's Schengen-area countries. Mrs Merkel also said that Germany was willing to restart talks with Ankara about the quality of its judiciary and human rights, two areas where Brussels maintains that Turkey still has much to do to qualify for EU membership.

Criticism

The fact that Germany is even willing to put this back on the agenda will draw criticism that Turkey's human rights record is being ignored in exchange for its help on the migrant crisis.

In a further sign of the nervousness created by the migrant influx, the anti-immigration Swiss People's Party (SVP) won the biggest share of the vote in Sunday's national parliamentary election, keeping pressure on the Swiss government to introduce quotas on people moving from the European Union. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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