Berlin, Ankara decry Aleppo strikes, seek NATO role in refugee crisis

Russia and human traffickers share in the Syrian government's blame for the misery affecting that nation, said German and Turkish leaders as they met in Ankara Monday to seek solutions to the war and the refugee crisis it has spawned.

Syria's nearly five-year-old civil war is at the root of all the issues German Chancellor Angela Merkel had to discuss with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday. Not only has the war largely destroyed the country, but it has fed in to a refugee crisis that has some Europeans worried their country is at the brink.

The two said they need to find ways to involve international organizations like NATO and the European Union in helping those affected by the war to flee the country and to make sure that those who seek to escape are not abused by human traffickers.

"We want to provide a safe route, a legal route [for Syrian refugees]," Merkel said, adding that NATO ministers are considering steps to involve the military alliance. Both Turkey and Germany are NATO member states.

In an effort to stamp out illegal immigration, the chancellor and the Turkish prime minister said they are planning joint operations between the EU border agency Frontex and the Turkish coast guard.

"We have agreed on a fight against human trafficking," said Davutoglu. Merkel is also due to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Merkel and Davutoglu's efforts to deal with the refugee crisis came as fresh attacks by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad forces and Russian bombing raids on the Syrian city of Aleppo left about 35,000 Syrians stranded at the Turkish border.

"We are appalled by the human suffering caused by the bombings - also from the Russian side," said Merkel at a joint press conference with Davutoglu.

Both the German and Turkish leaders called for a rapid end to action against Aleppo, with Davutoglu describing it "now as a major priority." He said Moscow airstrikes "showed how insincere Russia is."

Merkel said the Russian activity contravened a UN resolution which seeks to prevent attacks on civilians.

The talks in Ankara came ahead of a key European Union summit in Brussels next week, when Merkel hopes to secure EU backing for her plans to stem the influx of refugees by strengthening the region's external borders and forcing member states to share the burden of newcomers.

Turkey's cooperation forms a key part of Merkel's efforts to forge an international solution to the refugee crisis, since so many of the refugees initially flee Syria through Turkey. That means she is relying upon Ankara to deliver on her pledge for a "drastic reduction" in the refugee numbers this year.

In exchange, the bloc has given the go-ahead for a 3-billion-euro (3.3-billion-dollar) aid package for Turkey aimed at improving the lives of the more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees living there.

Under the action plan, agreed to between Turkey and Europe in November, Ankara is also seeking easy visa access to the EU and talks on its EU membership bid.

But the build-up on the Turkish border of those fleeing the attacks on Aleppo also raises the risk of a renewed push by refugees to set off for Germany and Europe.

The two leaders met as news broke that at least 38 people had drowned trying to make the perilous journey across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece hoping for reach Europe.

Merkel is hoping that an international solution will also head off pressure for national and unilateral measures demanded by members of her conservative-led political bloc. Those demands include stricter German border controls and an upper limit on the number of new arrivals.

Instead, the chancellor repeated that she wants a quota system to distribute the refugees across Europe, adding that it is important that the route from Syria via Turkey is "controlled, legal and organized by us."

A group of EU member states were ready to take the first steps to introduce a mechanism along these lines, Merkel said.

Merkel also argues that imposing stricter national border controls could threaten one of the symbols of European integration - the creation of borderless travel and the single market in trade between EU states.

Underlining the sense of urgency in Germany about facing up to the refugee crisis, Merkel's trip to Turkey is her second in the last five months.

She also visited Turkey in October. The two countries conducted bilateral consultations with Davutoglu less than four weeks ago in Berlin.

The German leader and the Turkish Prime Minister also met at last week's Syrian donor’s conference and are due to meet again next week in Brussels.

Last update: Mon, 08/02/2016 - 22:09

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