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Migrant crisis: Merkel and EU officials visit Turkey camp

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel and top EU officials have joined Turkey’s PM to visit a migrant camp on the Turkish-Syrian border, as they seek to bolster a controversial EU-Turkey deal.

The team met children and inspected living conditions at the Nizip camp, home to some 5,000 migrants.

Human rights groups criticised the visit as “sanitised”.

But European Council President Donald Tusk said Turkey was the “best example in the world of how to treat refugees”.

The goal of the EU-Turkey deal is to deter migrants, mainly Syrians and Iraqis, from making the crossing between Turkey and Greece.

Under the agreement, migrants who have arrived illegally in Greece since 20 March are expected to be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected.

Opponents question its legality and argue that Turkey is not a safe place to return people to.

Satire row

Mrs Merkel arrived in the southern city of Gaziantep, near the Syrian border. She was met at the airport by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

They were joined by Mr Tusk and EU Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans.


‘Not everyone is convinced’: Selin Girit, BBC News, Gaziantep

It has been over a month now since the migrant deal between the EU and Turkey was struck, but not everyone is convinced that it is working smoothly.

Although the number of migrants reaching Greece from Turkey has dropped by around 80%, few of staff promised by the EU to help enforce the deal have arrived, and many EU nations are dragging their feet to accept more migrants.

Angela Merkel said the aim of the visit was to see the living conditions of migrants in Turkey.

But more will be on the table, such as the promise of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens willing to go to Europe, which seems to be one of the most contentious issues.


Mrs Merkel and the EU officials then met the Nizip camp’s elected leaders and posed for photographs with children, before inspecting the containers that serve as homes.

The European delegation’s visit reflects an anxiety to see improvements in living conditions.

However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the EU officials had chosen to visit a “sanitised refugee camp”.

Judith Sunderland, HRW acting deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said the delegation should instead visit camps for the displaced on the other side of the border “to see the tens of thousands of war-weary Syrian refugees blocked” by Turkey from entering.

Bus carrying delegation to Nizip, 23 AprilImage copyrightReuters
Image captionArmed troops travelled on top of Mrs Merkel’s bus from Gaziantep airport to the camp
Migrants wait at the Nizip camp for the delegation's arrival, 23 AprilImage copyrightAP
Image captionMigrants wait at the Nizip camp for the delegation’s arrival

Security has been stepped up for the visit. Overnight, six foreigners suspected of links to so-called Islamic State were arrested in the central city of Konya.

Officials there said those arrested “wanted to attack dignitaries of the state and strategic targets”.

Deal’s first month

Under the EU-Turkey deal, for each Syrian migrant returned to Turkey, the EU is due to take in another Syrian who has made a legitimate request.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, centre, accompanied by EU Council President Donald Tusk, centre right, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, 2nd right, and EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans, right, pose for pictures during a visit at the Nizip refugee camp in Gaziantep province.Image copyrightAP
Image captionThe Western dignitaries were given flowers as they were about to go into Nizip camp
Refugee camp in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, next to the Syrian borderImage copyrightAP
Image captionHuman Rights Watch said the visit to the Nizip camp was “sanitised”

The scheme has reduced sharply the number of arrivals, from more than 56,000 in February to around 7,800 over the past 30 days, according to the European Commission.

However, the International Organization of Migration said unofficial data for arrivals in Greece in recent days suggested the numbers were picking up again.

Migrant arrivals to Greece

154,227

in 2016, up to 20 April

  • 376 died on Turkey-Greece route
  • 37% of 2016 arrivals are children
  • 853,650 arrivals in 2015
Getty Images

And the promised relocation of migrants to EU countries seems to be slow as nations are reluctant to take in more migrants – 103 Syrians have been resettled from Turkey to Europe, the commission said.

Rights organisations have attacked the scheme, with Amnesty International saying that Turkey has illegally returned Syrians to their country, a charge Ankara denies.

The EU has pledged up to $6.8bn (£4.5bn) in aid to Turkey over the next four years and the main focus of this latest visit is on how to begin spending that.

Ankara, however, expects more, and has warned the EU deal may collapse iftravel restrictions for its citizens are not eased as agreed.

The deal says Turkey must meet 72 conditions by 4 May to earn access to the EU’s visa-free Schengen area, but diplomats say only half of those points have been met so far.

Turkey already hosts some 2.7 million Syrian refugees, at a cost of over $10bn (£7bn), the government says.

Mrs Merkel’s trip comes as she faces additional pressure for agreeing to the prosecution of German comedian Jan Boehmermann, who is accused of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by reading out a satirical poem.

Advocates of freedom of speech in both Turkey and Germany have called on her to send out a strong message on the issue during her visit.

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A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

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