- Chancellor speaks after meeting Turkish Premier Davutoglu
- Turkey calls for assistance from NATO to patrol borders
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed outrage over Russian-backed attacks in Syria as a government offensive drives thousands of civilians to the Turkish border, exacerbating the already critical refugee crisis Merkel is struggling to resolve.
“We’re not only shocked, but also outraged, at what’s happened in terms of human suffering in the past few days for tens of thousands of people through bomb attacks, including attacks above all from Russia,” Merkel told reporters in Ankara on Monday after meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
The broadside against Russian President Vladimir Putin comes as forces and allies of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad seek to recapture war-ravaged Aleppo in northern Syria, presenting the regime with an upper hand in the five-year-old civil war. The military offensive, supported by Russian air strikes, is triggering a fresh wave of refugees as Merkel visited Turkey in a bid to stem the influx of migrants into the European Union.
As EU member states balk at accepting more migrants, Merkel said the only way to end the flood of illegal migration across the Aegean Sea into Greece -- the main conduit by which more than 1 million refugees entered the EU last year -- was to replace it with a legal avenue to migrants. That would involve the EU resettling allotments of mostly Syrian refugees directly from Turkey in return for Turkey halting the flow of migrants, Merkel said.
In what Merkel cited as a sign of progress, a group of officials from the EU, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Turkey will discuss how to assemble such a resettlement mechanism, according to a German government official who asked not to be identified because the talks aren’t public.
“We need results swiftly,” Merkel said alongside Davutoglu in the Turkish capital, ahead of a Feb. 18-19 summit in Brussels to decide Europe’s next move in the refugee crisis. “We can’t on one hand expect from Turkey that they stop everything, while on the other hand say that we’ll talk about allotments in half a year -- you can’t do that; it has to go hand-in-hand.”
Davutoglu, who said his government would step up efforts to crack down on networks of smugglers and human traffickers, called for assistance from NATO to help monitor Turkey’s maritime border with Greece as well as the frontier with Syria.
“We are going to work together to end the suffering of the Syrian people under these barbaric acts,” Davutoglu said. “No one can justify or tolerate Russian air strikes which amount to an ethnic massacre.”
With domestic pressure building for Merkel to follow other EU countries’ tack and turn asylum seekers away, the chancellor made her second visit to Turkey in four months to win assistance from the Turkish government. She also met President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Merkel looks increasingly isolated as intensified fighting in Syria prompts ever more civilians to flee and most of her fellow EU leaders refuse to share the refugee burden. With everything pointing to an upsurge in the numbers seeking asylum in Europe, the net is tightening around the chancellor as her efforts to mitigate the influx are undermined by factors outside her control.
EU officials said Saturday that they have little leverage over Turkey, even after releasing 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) in aid to help the government house, feed and find jobs for people fleeing from Syria. Merkel raised the prospect of additional financing should earmarked funds for refugee-related projects run out.
“If the money is used up, we can talk again,” Merkel said.
The chancellor’s insistence that international crisis diplomacy takes time and that she’s defending free travel and commerce within Europe clashes with the reality of declining poll ratings for herself and her party ahead of three German state elections on March 13.
Merkel’s approval rating slid this month to the lowest since August 2011 as 81 percent of respondents said her government had lost control of the refugee crisis, according to an Infratest Dimap poll published Wednesday. Only 38 percent of those polled said her government is doing a good job, compared with 51 percent in January.