BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Turkey plays a key role in solving the “historic task” of dealing with Europe’s migrant crisis and that the European Union should do more to help Ankara deal with the influx of refugees.
As a bitterly divided EU struggles to cope with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, securing cooperation of non-member Turkey is seen as increasingly central to managing the problem.
Addressing the Bundestag lower house of parliament before attending a European Union summit in Brussels later on Thursday, Merkel said a joint European effort was required to tackle the influx.
“Without a doubt Turkey plays a key role in this situation,” she said. “Most war refugees who come to Europe travel via Turkey. We won’t be able to order and stem the refugee movement without working together with Turkey.”
This included giving Turkey more support in caring for the refugees and providing humanitarian aid, as well as helping to secure borders and combat criminal smuggling rings, she said.
European leaders meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss strategies for dealing with tide of refugees trying to enter Europe. The agenda includes increasing cooperation with Turkey and other countries bordering Syria to try to keep millions of refugees in the region.
Merkel also plans to visit Turkey on Sunday for talks with President Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
The chancellor said she was sensitive to concerns in Germany about the need to assert European values in talks with Turkey while also addressing the refugee crisis.
Turning to Turkey’s longstanding application to join the EU, she added: “Treaties will be adhered to, and the EU’s negotiations with Turkey conducted without pre-judging.”
A senior official in Berlin told Reuters on Wednesday that the German government is willing to support an EU proposal to put Turkey on a list of “safe countries” whose citizens have little chance of being granted asylum in Europe.
Germany has previously been skeptical of the proposal, mainly because of Ankara’s human rights record and its treatment of the Kurdish minority.
Merkel said the conflict in Syria is the biggest cause of the migrant flows to Europe.
“To stabilize the situation in this country, so terribly afflicted by terror and violence, and to bring it peace in the long-term of course we need a process of political dialogue which includes Russia and other international actors, including regional actors,” she said.
Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Writing by Caroline Copley and Paul Carrel; Editing by Tom Heneghan