Merkel in Turkey to discuss migrant crisis

Istanbul, October 18

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was today holding talks with Turkish leaders over ways to resolve the migrant crisis after Turkey expressed disappointment with the EU’s efforts so far.

Merkel was meeting Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at the Ottoman-era Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul ahead of talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a critical one-day visit which was only announced on October 12.

With no end in sight to the crisis which has posed the biggest challenge of Merkel’s career, the flood of migrants and refugees continued to make their way across Europe, pouring into Slovenia after Hungary closed off its border with Croatia. The European Union wants Turkey to do more to tighten its border security and help contain the historic influx of people from Syria, Iraq and other conflict zones seeking shelter in the 28-nation bloc.

In return, Ankara wants greater recognition for its role in hosting over two million Syrian refugees, a concrete increase in financial help and for an acceleration of its long-stalled bid for EU membership.

Germany has been Europe’s top destination for refugees, most of whom travel through Turkey and the Balkans, and is expecting to register up to a million asylum requests this year -- a development which has hurt Merkel politically. But Erdogan has heaped scorn on Europe’s efforts to deal with the crisis and urged Brussels to take Ankara’s EU membership bid more seriously. “We are hosting 2.5 million refugees but nobody cares,” he said.

And Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu punctured hopes that a deal had been reached between Ankara and Brussels, saying an action plan thrashed out on Thursday was only a draft and the financial help offered was “unacceptable”.

With Turkey facing one of the most significant junctures in its modern history, Merkel is also expected to discuss security a week after a double suicide bombing killed more than 100 people, and as the country’s heads towards parliamentary elections on November 1.

Research institute the European Stability Initiative said although expectations were “not running high” for today’s talks, Berlin and Ankara “share a capacity to bring the migration crisis back under control”. “If Germany and Turkey cannot reach a deal, there are no other solutions in sight, and the mass migration of Syrians and others into the EU will continue.”

More than 630,000 people fleeing war and misery in the Middle East and Africa have landed on Europe’s shores this year, many making risky sea crossings from Turkey to Greece. Of those who make it, most try to get to Germany, after Merkel made clear her country would take in people fleeing the bloody Syrian war.