German Chancellor Angela Merkel
says she is after creating safe zones to shelter Syrian refugees in their own country close to Turkish border, an idea strongly supported by Ankara amid UN and rights groups’ concerns.
“I have … again demanded that we have zones where the ceasefire is particularly enforced and where a significant level of security can be guaranteed,” Merkel said in the Turkish city of Gaziantep during a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and the EU
officials on Saturday.
Berlin and Ankara seek to keep Syrian refugees inside Syria
in order to stem the flow of asylum seekers to European
shores, yet the UN has warned against the plan unless there is a way to guarantee the refugees’ safety in their terror-plagued country.
Merkel, Davutoglu, and European Council Donald Tusk also visited the Nizip 1 refugee camp near Gaziantep and the border, home to 10,000 Syrian asylum seekers.
Merkel (C), Tusk (2nd R) and Davutoglu (2nd L) talk with children at a pre-school, during a visit to a refugee camp on April 23 ,2016 on the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep. (AFP)
“Instead of touring a sanitized refugee camp, EU leaders should look over the top of Turkey
’s new border wall to see the tens of thousands of war-weary Syrian refugees blocked on the other side,” said Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch in a statement, urging Merkel and EU officials to “go to the (Turkish) detention center for people who were abusively deported from Greece.”
Under the EU-Turkey controversial deal sealed last month, Ankara agreed to take back all the asylum seekers and refugees — including the Syrians – who had used its territory to illegally reach EU shores in return for a number of commitments from the EU, including a financial aid, visa liberalization and progress in its EU membership negotiations.
Refugees try to catch a glimpse of German Chancellor Angela Merkel visiting the refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep on April 23, 2016. (AFP)
Davutoglu warned that the refugee deal with the European Union
would not be fulfilled without EU visa liberalization for Turkish citizens. He also said the number of illegal asylum seekers heading to Greece has dropped considerably since the deal came into effect.
Critics, however, have accused Turkey of blackmailing Europe over the refugee crisis.
Nearly 175,800 asylum seekers have reached Europe via the Mediterranean so far this year, while over 700 people died in their journey to the continent, according to the latest figures by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Turkey is currently hosting around 2.7 million refugees who have fled from war-torn Syria.