Under pressure, Merkel looks to Turkey for help in migrant crisis


Berlin (AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will press Ankara to help stem the flow of migrants to Europe in talks with Turkey's prime minister Friday, as two more refugee boats capsized, killing eight children.

Germany and Turkey have emerged as key players in the biggest migration crisis to rock Europe since World War II, and both Merkel and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will seek to drive a hard bargain at the meeting between the two countries' cabinets.

The outcome of Friday's talks is not only important for Merkel, who faces intense pressure at home to impose a cap on Germany's refugee intake, but it will also have resonance across Europe where public opinion is hardening against a record asylum seeker influx.

Despite wintry conditions, thousands of people fleeing war and misery are still embarking on the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to seek a better life in Europe.

Another two boats carrying dozens of migrants sank, killing 21 people, Greece's coastguard said Friday.

EU member states have been split about how to resolve the crisis, with Austria the latest to draw fire when it decided to impose a limit on its asylum seeker intake.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said his country's measure serves as a "wake-up call" to push Europe to find a joint solution.

Merkel has so far faced down demands for a quota, after nearly 1.1 million asylum seekers arrived in Germany in 2015.

She has instead promised a "tangible reduction" in new arrivals, and is counting on international efforts to deliver.

Turkey, which shares a border with war-torn Syria, plays a pivotal role as it is a launchpad for thousands of migrants.

- 'Not asking for money' -

Merkel will ask Davutoglu to honour a deal with the EU to reduce the number of migrants coming through, as between 2,000 and 3,000 people are still arriving daily in Greece from Turkey despite the November 29 accord.

But the EU hasn't delivered on the deal either, with member states still squabbling over the financing for aid towards the 2.2 million Syrian refugees that Turkey is hosting.

Davutoglu Thursday said he would not even ask about the three billion euros ($3.2 billion) promised by the EU but will demand concrete action instead.

"We are not asking (for) money, we are not negotiating (for) money... For us, it's a humanitarian duty, therefore the problem is not financial assistance," Davutoglu told the Davos summit of business and political elites.

"We hope the next steps will be concrete steps to address this issue," he said on the eve of the Berlin talks.

Die Welt newspaper said "it is possible that Germany would promise additional bilateral funds".

Both sides might point to a recent success in cooperation -- major raids announced Wednesday by German and Turkish police which dismantled a criminal trafficking network that used unseaworthy ships to send more than 1,700 refugees to Europe.

With the meeting coming on the heels of last week's attack in Istanbul that killed 10 German tourists, discussions would also invariably focus on the international battle against the Islamic State group, Merkel's spokesman said.

- Press freedom, Kurds -

Turkey has a special relationship with Germany as the EU's biggest economy is not only home to around three million people with Turkish roots, but is also its biggest trading partner.

Friday's talks are part of so-called government consultations -- a format that Germany has with only a handful of countries. It will be the first with Turkey, and includes interior, foreign and defence ministers from both sides.

Merkel herself has said she will use the occasion to raise thorny topics such as media freedom and the situation of the Kurds.

Concerns over press freedom are rising in Turkey, after an increasing number of journalists were arrested for insulting or criticising top officials.

Turkey is also waging an all-out offensive against the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), with military operations backed by curfews aimed at flushing out rebels from several southeastern urban centres.

But Kurdish activists say dozens of civilians have died as a result of excessive force.

Under the banner "Not welcome, Mr Davutoglu", Kurdish and some Turkish groups in Germany are planning to march in protest to the chancellery, where the talks are due to begin at midday.

Prominent actors, writers and academics in Germany, including members of the Turkish community, have also signed a petition urging Merkel to raise the plight of "victims of the aggression in south-eastern Turkey."