Monday 19 February 2018

Merkel to push Turkey's EU bid in return for help

Refugees jump over a barrier at a border line between Serbia and Croatia, near the village of Berkasovo, about 100km west of Belgrade, Serbia
Refugees jump over a barrier at a border line between Serbia and Croatia, near the village of Berkasovo, about 100km west of Belgrade, Serbia
A young boy cries as refugees crowd around the barrier separating Croatia from Serbia

Oscar Webb

Germany offered Turkey the prospect of faster progress on its hope of joining the European Union yesterday in exchange for badly needed help in stemming the flow of migrants to Europe.

As the migrant crisis continued to escalate, with thousands entering Slovenia from Croatia after Hungary sealed off another border, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met her Turkish counterparts in Istanbul to urge them to stop people smugglers ferrying migrants to European shores.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister, the German chancellor said that Germany could help accelerate Turkey's path to visa liberalisation in the EU for its citizens and push forward Ankara's drawn-out EU membership talks.

She expected Turkey in return to agree to take back migrants rejected by the EU, which Mr Davutoglu has said he will agree to only if there is progress on the issue of visas.

"Germany is ready to offer support. If we take the question of visa liberalisation, we can talk in the German-Turkish working group about specific possibilities to push through visa facilitation," Mrs Merkel said.

The German and Turkish leaders agreed there could be no lasting solution to the migration crisis without resolving the conflict in Syria. More than two million refugees have now fled from the war-torn country to Turkey.

Thousands of migrants entered Slovenia from Croatia at the weekend after Hungary forged ahead with a unilateral crackdown in the absence of EU unity. Croatia ran trains to take 4,000 migrants across from the town of Tovarnik on its eastern Serbian border, according to the UN's refugee agency.

Until Hungary closed its border with Croatia on Friday, Slovenia had only received a few hundred refugees this year, said the UNHCR. More than 3,000 people surged into the tiny country on Saturday alone, most intending to travel on to Austria and Germany.

The UNHCR has estimated that Slovenia has the capacity to accept around 7,000 migrants a day, although Slovenian officials say they can take only 2,500 a day, and that new groups will be allowed in only after previous groups leave the country.

At Cakovec railway station, about three miles from the Slovenian border, the migrants from Tovarnik were split into groups and driven to various border crossings, before being dropped off at registration centres.

Tensions rose over the slow registration process, with 400 migrants waiting upwards of six hours at the centre yesterday and many having to queue outside. A fight broke out between two large groups of men after one appeared to try to jump the queue.

Khalil, a 40-year-old courier, who had travelled from Homs in Syria, said: "We left Syria because of the war and genocide and massacres.

"This journey has been a bit strenuous, It's been an inconvenience. There's been much waiting… for food, for sleeping, for clothes. It's a real misery, but what can one say?"

Meanwhile, Germany's police union chief Rainer Wendt called yesterday for a fence to be built along the country's border.

"If we want to carry out serious border controls, we must build a fence along the German border," he said, adding that the move would prompt other European countries which have seen hundreds of thousands of refugees cross their borders to follow suit. If we close our borders in this way, Austria will also close the border with Slovenia. That's exactly the effect we need," Mr Wendt said.

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