German Chancellor Angela Merkel Tuesday called on the EU and North African countries to do deals modelled on a controversial agreement with Turkey to stem migrant flows to Europe.
Under the EU-Turkey agreement, Ankara agreed to take back one Syrian who made it to Greece in return for being allowed to send one from its massive refugee camps to the bloc in a more orderly redistribution programme.
The deal also pledges billions of euros in EU aid for Turkey, visa-free European travel for Turkish citizens and accelerated EU membership talks.
“We must agree on similar deals with other countries, such as in North Africa, in order to get better control over the Mediterranean sea refugee routes,” Merkel told regional daily Neue Passauer Zeitung.
“Such agreements are also in the interest of the refugees themselves,” she said, pointing to the huge risks migrants take in crossing the Mediterranean in rickety vessels, as well as the large sums they have to pay smugglers for the perilous sea passage.
“It is safer for them and there are good reasons for them to remain in Turkey, close to their homeland, where the cultural and language barriers are lower,” she said, defending the deal with Turkey as “correct, as before”.
“We should work to ensure that it lasts,” she said.
But fears are mounting in the EU that the pact with Turkey to curb migrant flows could collapse as a rift deepens over Ankara’s crackdown following a failed coup.
Turkey angrily rejects EU criticism that its post-putsch purges might violate rights norms Ankara must meet under the agreement in return for visa-free travel for Turks and accelerated negotiations for bloc membership.
Merkel also urged EU partners to step up to their responsibilities in taking in refugees who had arrived in Greece.
Before the EU-Turkey deal took effect, some 45,000 refugees had already arrived in Greece as Macedonia closed its borders to the migrants.
“That is, if one compares it to the number of residents, as if 360,000 refugees were to arrive in Germany over the course of a few weeks,” she said.
“That shows what Greece has had to deal with,” she said, noting that the 3,000 refugees distributed so far to other EU states falls below the expectations of what the member states should take on.