Merkel sweetens migrant deal for Turkey

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul, Turkey on Oct 18, 2015.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul, Turkey on Oct 18, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

ISTANBUL • German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered Turkey financial aid and the prospect of faster progress on its bid to join the European Union yesterday in return for badly needed help in stemming the flow of migrants to Europe.

Speaking in Istanbul, Dr Merkel said Germany could help accelerate the path to visa-free travel to the EU for Turks and push forward Ankara's protracted EU membership talks. In return, she expected Turkey to agree to take back migrants rejected by the EU.

"I think we have used the crisis we are experiencing through a very disorderly and uncontrolled movement of refugees, to again achieve closer cooperation on many issues, both between the European Union and Turkey, and between Germany and Turkey," Dr Merkel said.

Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan confirmed yesterday that he had asked Dr Merkel, as well as France, Britain and Spain, for support on accelerating Turkey's bid for membership of the EU.

Dr Merkel's visit to Istanbul comes at a time when she faces strong criticism in Germany from frustrations over the refugee crisis. Long-dormant protest movement Pegida came back to life last week , when one protester carried a mock gallows with the names of Dr Merkel and her deputy, despised by the protesters as "Berlin dictators" and "traitors" for their open-door policy to refugees.

While she has resisted pressure to tighten Germany's border controls and turn away refugees, she is under increasing pressure to cement a deal with Turkey in return for help in encouraging refugees there to stay put. Germany expects 800,000 to one million new arrivals this year, which has increasingly prompted vocal opposition.

Anti-refugee sentiment took a violent turn on Saturday when a mayoral candidate was seriously wounded in a "racist" stabbing linked to the crisis.

Ms Henriette Reker, an independent close to Dr Merkel's ruling Christian Democrats who is active in helping refugees, was stabbed at a party stand. Four other people were injured.

The attacker told the police he had "a racist motivation", a Cologne police official said.

Also, Europe's migrant crisis has reached Slovenia for the first time, with nearly 3,000 migrants entering the country from Croatia, having been forced to change their route after Hungary closed off another border with razor wire.

The ongoing crisis had both Turkish and German sides saying yesterday that there could be no lasting solution to the migration crisis without resolving the conflict in Syria, from where more than two million refugees have now fled to Turkey.

A "safe zone" in northern Syria, a proposal long championed by Turkey but which has gained little international traction, is badly needed if the flow of refugees is to be stemmed, Turkish Prime Minister Agnet Davutoglu said.

Separately, a group of 84 bishops have written to British Prime Minister David Cameron, urging him to allow more Syrian refugees to settle in Britain.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2015, with the headline 'Merkel sweetens migrant deal for Turkey'. Print Edition | Subscribe