By Ayhan Simsek
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday defended the EU-Turkey refugee agreement and called for more efforts regarding the resettlement of refugees.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Austrian counterpart Sebastian Kurz in Berlin, she said protecting EU's external borders and providing support to countries hosting millions of refugees were important pillars in addressing the crisis.
“I was very surprised to see a lot of criticism directed at the EU-Turkey agreement when we concluded it,” she said, referring to criticism by several EU members, including Austria, two years ago.
Kurz, who was the Austrian foreign minister in 2016, had criticized the deal, arguing it would make EU dependent on Turkey.
Merkel added that the agreement proved successful in protecting EU's external borders.
“I don’t think that we can leave it to human traffickers and smugglers to decide who can arrive in Europe and who cannot,” she added.
She also called for more efforts in overcoming current problems in the resettlement of refugees from Turkey and other countries hosting millions of refugees from conflict regions.
“We must achieve more through resettlement, through cooperation with the UNHCR, and agreements with the respective countries,” she said.
Merkel has long been a key supporter of the EU-Turkey agreement clinched in March 2016, which aimed at discouraging the irregular migration through the Aegean Sea by establishing stricter measures against human traffickers and improving the conditions of nearly 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.
Although the plan has successfully reduced irregular migration flows and came as a significant relief for Merkel in domestic politics, the EU has failed to timely deliver the promised funding for refugees in Turkey.
The EU’s plans for the resettlement of refugees have largely stalled, due to reluctance among member states.
Turkey hosts more Syrian refugees than any other country in the world. Ankara says it has spent more than €20 billion ($24.1 billion) from its own national resources for helping and sheltering refugees since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.