Merkel Stands by EU-Turkey Refugee Deal Amid Hail of Criticism

  • German chancellor says accord offers path to legal migration
  • Merkel pushes back against agreement with Turkey's Erdogan

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed back against critics of the European Union’s refugee accord with Turkey and pressed her EU partners to help resettle migrants more evenly across the region.

Two days before scheduled talks with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at Gaziantep near the Syrian border, Merkel insisted that the agreement with Turkey to send back refugees across the Aegean Sea is the best chance to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. The chancellor spoke on Thursday as she received the Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award in the Dutch city of Middelburg, partly for her open-door policy on refugees.

It was a rebuff to criticism in Germany and Europe of Merkel’s push to enlist Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s help and questions about the accord’s legality.

“The EU-Turkey agreement negotiated four weeks ago offers a real perspective to end the horrible business of smuggling in the Aegean,” Merkel said in a speech. “Far too many people have died as they flee. The EU-Turkey accord truly didn’t come early enough.”

As Europe grapples with the influx of more than 1 million refugees since last year, the EU said this week that its agreement with Turkey is helping stem the flow. Leaders are turning to the prospect of new migration routes as the path via Greece through the Balkans has closed, foreshadowed by a United Nations report that 500 migrants may have drowned in a sea-crossing attempt from Libya to Italy.

Merkel faced a hail of criticism last week after granting Turkey’s request to allow the prosecution of a German satirist who directed a lewd poem at Erdogan. The episode exposed a rift in her government and the discomfort of dealing with a leader scaling back press freedoms.

Seeking ‘Solidarity’

Merkel defended the agreement’s legal foundation and said EU leaders must move ahead on a distribution system for refugees, which many member states have resisted.

“It’s now important that we continue efforts in solidarity toward a distribution of refugees in Europe,” Merkel said.

The March 18 agreement, under which illegal migrants who enter the EU in Greece are sent back to Turkey and Syrian refugees in Turkish camps are resettled in Europe, is meant to discourage people smuggling and dangerous sea crossings. So far, 325 migrants, including two Syrians, have been sent to Turkey from Greece and 103 Syrian refugees on Turkish soil have been resettled in the EU, the European Commission said Wednesday in Brussels.

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