EU leaders agree to relocating 160,000 refugees across Europe
Refugees walk along the railway tracks on the Hugary-Serbia border on Sept. 14, 2015. (AFP/File)
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The EU agreement to relocate 160,000 refugees across Europe is just a “first step” in dealing with the refugee crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told parliament Thursday.
Merkel, whose government has taken the lead in addressing the problems caused by the arrival of more than 500,000 refugees in Europe this year, said EU members needed to work together and with countries hosting large numbers of refugees such as Turkey.
“I am deeply convinced that what Europe needs is not just selective relocation of this kind, but much more a durable process for fairly distributing refugees among member states,” she said.
“Now we have seen the first step but we are still a long way from where we must get to.”
Her comments follow a deal to redistribute 120,000 refugees fleeing war zones such as Syria away from Europe’s “frontline” states Greece and Italy and across the rest of the continent. EU interior ministers had earlier agreed to relocate another 40,000.
Merkel also underlined the need to adopt “permanent procedures” for dealing with refugees as they arrived in the EU.
She said the root causes of the crisis needed to be tackled not just by the EU but also regional powers as well as Russia and the US to address the “desolate situation in Syria.”
Divisions among the international community over the Syrian conflict, in particular Russian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, have been partially blamed for the failure to find a political solution to the four-and-a-half year war.
The chancellor confirmed that EU leaders had pledged at least 1 billion euros ($1.12 billion) for Syrian refugees and said Turkey was key to solving the crisis.
“Only in cooperation with Turkey we can secure our external borders,” she said, adding: “We should have stronger engagement with the important source and transit countries and support them in providing housing, help for the refugees, in fighting smuggling, in addressing the root causes of the flight.”
EU President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Council President Donald Tusk will meet Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Oct. 5, Merkel revealed. “We have encouraged them and relevant European institutions to carry out intensive talks with Turkey.”
Turkey is currently hosting the world’s largest refugee population, including 1.9 million Syrians, and has spent around $8 billion over the last five years.
At a Wednesday night news conference in Brussels following the EU leaders’ meeting, Merkel said talks on the Syrian conflict should involve Assad, something that is opposed by Turkey and other regional powers such as Saudi Arabia.
“Yes, we have to speak with many actors,” she said. “This includes Assad but others as well, not only the United States of America and Russia, but also important regional partners. These include Iran, Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia.”
Her remarks prompted speculation that Germany had softened its opposition to Assad.
However, a senior German diplomat dismissed such speculation. “There is no policy change,” the diplomat said under condition of anonymity. “It is not a new thing that representatives of the regime [should be] participating at talks for a political solution within the Geneva process.”
The 2012 Geneva Communique is a six-point plan for a political settlement in Syria. It calls for the establishment of a transitional government that could include “members of the present government and the opposition and other groups."