Tuesday 6 December 2016

Turkey claims success with migrant deal as Angela Merkel visits refugee camp

Berza Simsek and Suzan Fraser

Published 23/04/2016 | 20:20

German chancellor Angela Merkel. AFP/Fredrik von Erichsen/Getty Images
German chancellor Angela Merkel. AFP/Fredrik von Erichsen/Getty Images

The number of irregular crossings by migrants to Greece has dropped considerably, showing the Turkish-EU migrant deal is working, Turkey's prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

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Mr Davutoglu said on Saturday that, since the deal came into effect in March, around 130 crossings have been recorded per day. On some days, no refugees at all cross over to the Greek islands, he said.

Mr Davutoglu was speaking in the city of Gaziantep, near Turkey's border with Syria, at a joint news conference with visiting German chancellor Angela Merkel, EU Council president Donald Tusk and EU Commission vice president Frans Timmermans.

The Turkish leader said the EU is launching initial projects worth 187 million euro aimed at improving the conditions of refugees in Turkey.

The projects are being funded by the six billion euro the EU pledged to Turkey over the next four years as part of the migrant deal. In return, the bloc can deport migrants who do not qualify for asylum in Greece back to Turkey.

Ms Merkel and top European Union officials inaugurated a child support centre in Turkey for Syrian refugees funded by the 28-member bloc.

Ms Merkel, Mr Tusk and Mr Timmermans on Saturday cut a red ribbon to open the centre which is supported by the UN children's agency. They were joined by Mr Davutoglu and his wife.

Ms Merkel chatted with a group of a children standing in front of paintings made at the centre in the city of Gaziantep, near the border with Syria, gave some of them colouring pencils and listened to a band playing instruments.

She shook hands with the young musicians and thanked them in Arabic.

The delegation is visiting the area near the Syrian border in a bid to promote a deal reached with Turkey on the return of migrants who do not qualify for asylum in Greece.

Four refugee children in traditional Syrian dress had greeted Ms Merkel and the EU officials with flowers as they entered a refugee camp.

The leaders posed for photos with the children and met with the camp's elected leaders before walking into the site where the refugees are housed in container homes.

A large banner mounted near the fence of the camp read in English and in Turkish: "Welcome to the world's largest refugee hosting country."

Turkey is home to an estimated 2.7 million Syrian refugees.

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