Germany's Merkel, EU officials to visit Turkey amid migration deal

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and top European Union officials will visit southern Turkey next weekend in the wake of a deal struck with Ankara to stem migration flows to the bloc.

Merkel, EU President Donald Tusk and European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans will travel to Gaziantep on April 23, Tusk's office confirmed, saying this was a "follow up" to the agreement reached last month in Brussels.

Turkey hosts more than 2 million Syrian refugees - more than any other country - with many of them residing in Gaziantep, near the border with Syria.

Islamic State cells are active in the province, and this week they killed a Syrian journalist who was critical of the extremists.

Rockets from fighting in neighbouring Syria have also fallen this week in southern Turkey, with Western nations warning on travel to the region.

Refugee camps run by Turkey's disaster management agency are located all along the lengthy border, although only about 12 per cent of Syrian refugees live in them.

The country has been a gateway for migrants taking dangerous boat rides to reach Europe, though in recent weeks Turkish authorities have clamped down on smugglers, as part of the deal.

Last year, more than 1 million people, including many Syrians, reached Europe's shores, often first landing in Greece and then moving on to northern countries.

Under the deal, migrants and asylum seekers reaching the Greek islands as of March 20 can be returned to Turkey. Several hundred economic migrants have already been sent back to Turkey, though the returns have been sharply criticized by human rights groups.

In exchange, the EU has pledged to directly take in one Syrian from Turkey in return for every Syrian refugee the country takes back. The bloc has also promised 6 billion dollars in aid for the Syrians and Turkey is hoping to get visa free access to the EU.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is scheduled to meet European Commission President Jean Claude-Juncker in Strasbourg, France, on Tuesday.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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