Germany's Merkel calls for 'safe zones' in Syria

German Chancellor Angela Merkel calls for creation of 'safe zones' to shelter refugees in Syria during her visit to refugee camp in southeastern Turkey

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a news conference after visiting Nizip refugee camp near Gaziantep, Turkey , April 23, 2016.

Updated Apr 24, 2016

Germany is seeking the creation of "safe zones" to shelter refugees in Syria, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday, an idea Turkey has long championed.

Keeping refugees on the Syrian side of the border would help Brussels and Ankara, which hosts 2.7 million Syrian refugees, and stem the flow of refugees to European shores. 

At a news conference in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, Merkel called for "zones where the ceasefire is particularly enforced and where a significant level of security can be guaranteed."

Tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting in Syria are already camped near the Azaz border crossing where local agencies offer humanitarian support.

Merkel's comments come after a EU-Turkey agreement to send back thousands of refugees from the Greek islands to Turkey.

The agreement, coupled with border closures in Europe that meant smugglers could not secure passage to northern Europe, initially slowed the numbers of new arrivals to Greece.

But boats have been arriving with about 150 people a day, indicating the "hermetic sealing" of the route appears to be over, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

One side of the deal was Turks winning quicker visa-free travel to Europe, something that could be implemented by a June deadline set by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Turkey will also receive 3 billion euros ($3.37 billion) in funds to look after refugees, enabling Turkey to meet its responsibilities to the refugees including giving refugees the right to work.

On Saturday, Davutoglu, Merkel, EU Council President Donald Tusk and Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans visited a refugee camp in Nizip and the inauguration of a child protection centre in Gaziantep.

(L-R) EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans, EU Council President Donald Tusk, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a press conference at Gaziantep University in Gaziantep, Turkey on April 23, 2016.

Speaking at the inauguration, Tusk praised Turkey as a refugee host.

"Today Turkey is the best example in the entire world of how to treat refugees. I am proud that we are partners. There is no other way," he said.

"No one has a right to lecture Turkey on what it should be doing," he added.

"This is not only a political and formal assessment... this is also my very private and personal feeling."

TRTWorld, Reuters