• Merkel, Davutoglu say illegal migration is a regional threat
  • Turkish premier promises `new steps' to bring down numbers

Turkey pledged to ratchet up efforts to halt the flow of refugees bound for Europe, offering German Chancellor Angela Merkel a lifeline as she vowed to stand by her open-door policy while targeting the root causes of migration.

Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu agreed that illegal migration presented a regional threat that must be addressed with “the utmost urgency,” they said in a statement after a joint meeting of the German and Turkish cabinets held in Berlin on Friday.

Angela Merkel and Ahmet Davutoglu
Angela Merkel and Ahmet Davutoglu
Photographer: Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images

“Turkey is doing its best to halt illegal crossings into the European Union,” Davutoglu told reporters after the talks. Turkey “will take new steps on immigration,” he said.

The promise offers potential relief to the beleaguered chancellor, who said she’ll press ahead with efforts to bring the arrival of more than a million refugees into Europe last year under control while preserving Europe’s internal system of open borders. The linchpin of Merkel’s plan is a negotiated EU settlement with Turkey, which commited 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in aid -- yet to arrive -- and improved relations in return for additional efforts by Turkey to better control the number of people crossing its territory to reach Europe.

Merkel has come under unprecedented pressure to put a cap on the number of people arriving in Germany amid no sign of a let up and the decision of neighboring countries to tighten their borders. With calls for action proliferating following a spate of sexual assaults linked to migrants on New Year’s Eve, the chancellor doused speculation that she was weighing a change in course when she spoke earlier this week of a “preliminary assessment” of her refugee policy following a Feb. 18-19 EU summit.

“I didn’t mean that in such a way that would place the fundamental effort into question,” Merkel said. “I’m deeply convinced that we need to fight the causes of migration.”

‘Hand in Hand’

Capping a week in which Austria announced a limit on migration, Merkel’s Bavarian allies railed against her for not following their lead and Germany’s president urged a discussion on imposing limits, Merkel sought action from Turkey as the surest way to scale back the influx. As well as a pledge to “walk hand in hand with Germany,” she elicited praise from the Turkish premier for recognizing the burden Turkey shoulders, having taken in some 2.5 million Syrian refugees.

“When Europe and the world were completely silent on refugees, Mrs Merkel made sure that an awareness of their plight emerged,” Davutoglu said. “She showed a humanitarian face and an exemplary attitude.”

Merkel cited “delays” in the EU’s implementation of measures to address the crisis, while expressing confidence that the bloc will resolve the turmoil “step by step.” Merkel demurred when asked whether she felt “lonely” as Germany’s position grew isolated in the 28-member bloc.

“No, I don’t have this sense,” Merkel responded. “Certainly not now, and otherwise not in general.”

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