German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul | Photo: picture-alliance
German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul | Photo: picture-alliance

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting Istanbul to talk with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Migration is the main focus of their talk -- from the future of the EU-Turkey migration deal to dealing with events in Libya.

Migration is the main focus of talks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, January 24. 

On Friday afternoon, the news agency Reuters reported that Merkel had provisionally promised, following German checks, to help Turkey build adequate accommodation for refugees in northern Syria. "I can imagine this would be the kind of humanitarian project for which we could provide German funds," Merkel said. If the funding does materialize it would be the first time that Germany or the EU sends money to support Turkish projects in north Syria.

Merkel cautioned that any accommodation built in this area would need to be in conjunction with the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR.

EU-Turkey deal

Ahead of the meeting, the two leaders were expected to take another look at the future of the EU-Turkey deal. It was struck in 2016 in the hope of reducing migrant flows from Turkey to Greece and the rest of Europe. It is expected to last for another two years.

The deal itself has been sailing difficult waters in the last year, with Turkey claiming that the EU has not paid all the money it promised. Erdogan threatened to "open the gates," allowing more migrants to flow to Greece, if the monies are not paid.

Numbers of arrivals in Greece increasing

Since summer 2019, the number of migrants arriving in Greece every week from Turkey have significantly increased. According to the UNHCR, the numbers of refugees and migrants in Greece in December 2019 stood at 112,300. More than 40,000 people were on the islands and more than 70,000 on the mainland. To date, in 2020, there have been 1,756 new arrivals in Greece, mostly via the islands.

The EU-Turkey deal included a promise by the EU to send €6 billion euros to Turkey to help with the provision in Turkey for Syrian refugees. The money was also intended to incentivize Turkey keeping refugees in the country. According to Turkish estimates, there are 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. However, ahead of Merkel and Erdogan’s meeting, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu again said that "too little" money had so far arrived in Turkey from the EU, leading to fears that the deal may end prematurely.

On Friday, Germany’s national broadcaster reported that the EU states it has sent €2.7 billion and that a total of €4.3 billion have been earmarked for specific projects.

Migration flows to Turkey, Europe

Ahead of the meeting, a migration expert, Murat Erdogan from TAU University, told Germany's international broadcaster DW that he thought "Merkel will not only talk about Syrians and the migration flow caused by the fighting in Idlib, but also about the increasing number of people coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran since last year." Murat Erdogan pointed out that, in fact, the majority of those currently arriving in Greece are no longer from Syria. However, that could be about to change following the latest Syrian government attacks in the north of the country which is sparking fears that a new refugee influx could be about to begin.

According to the latest UNHCR figures from January 21, which broke down the country of origin percentages for migrants and refugees already in Greece, 40% of those present are from Syria, 21% from Iraq and 20% from Afghanistan. At the moment just 3% are from Iran and 12% from other countries, including people from Pakistan.

Migrants stuck in Libya

Merkel is also expected to bring up the question of Libya once again, just days after the two governments took part in multi-lateral talks in Berlin to try and stabilize the situation in Libya. During the meeting, Erdogan underlined once again that the powers needed to act fast in Libya, otherwise he warned "chaos would descend affecting the whole of the Mediterranean region." UNHCR Libya has stated that there are more than 40,000 migrants and refugees in Libya; a further breakdown in the situation could lead to even more people attempting the crossing to Europe.

Erdogan, whose government supports the UN-backed Libyan government, urged once again for more pressure to be brought upon General Haftar, who has been fighting an offensive against the UN-backed government since April this year.

Germany will take over the rotating presidency of the EU Council in July and so, having spearheaded the EU-Turkey deal in 2016, it will, once again, have a greater influence on how the future of the deal will look.

What do Germans think?

Conscious of domestic concerns too, the German government is keen to avoid finding themselves once again in the position they found themselves in in 2015, when more than one million people entered the country within a year. A recent German television poll, conducted by the morning news program for the country's state broadcaster, found that 40% of Germans wanted the numbers of migrants and refugees in the country to fall; 42% were happy for the levels to remain the same.  A further 11% would be happy if even more refugees arrived in the country.

The director of the pro-refugee campaign group Pro-Asyl, Günter Burkhardt said in Berlin, during a debate about the Erdogan-Merkel meeting on Friday, that Merkel should stop making deals with Turkey at the expense of people in need of protection. Burkhardt criticized Turkey’s methods in adhering to the EU-Turkey pact, accusing them of using "brutal violence" in order to stop people fleeing across the sea and land to Europe. According to the news agency AFP, Burkhardt added that Turkey was deporting more and more people to warzones like Syria and Afghanistan. 

More articles