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Berlin-Rome discord over deal with Ankara on migrants persists

Berlin-Rome discord over deal with Ankara on migrants persists

BERLIN: The German and Italian leaders on Friday pledged to tackle Europe’s migrant influx but failed to resolve discord on an EU deal with Turkey to limit arrivals, a day after Berlin moved to tighten asylum rules.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said that, with 2,000 new asylum seekers entering the Balkans every day, the European Union “urgently” needs to implement a deal that asks Turkey to better protect its borders in return for financial support.

“We must fight illegality,” combat human traffickers and avoid migrant deaths at sea, Merkel said at a Berlin press conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Renzi, who has stalled on signing off on the $3.3 billion EU payment to Ankara and traded barbs with Brussels, said he was still seeking clarification about the details from the EU executive.

“We are still waiting for the answers to specific questions we sent to the (European) Commission,” he said, adding that once there is clarity, “there can be no doubt that we will make our contribution”.

Responding to recent German criticism that Italy has been slow to set up “hotspot” migrant registration centres, he said that Italian police were now “registering 100 per cent of refugees” and taking their photos and fingerprints.

In a diplomatic show of unity after Renzi has repeatedly criticised “German dominance” in EU affairs, both leaders said that the migrant crisis can only be solved if the 28 members of the bloc work together.

Renzi added that “for many years it seemed that the problem of migration was a purely Italian problem. Today we know that it is a European problem. And I believe it will last for months, maybe years”.

Merkel, after a decade in power, has come under fierce pressure to reverse her open-arms migrant policy, with emotions heightened after a rash of sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year’s Eve police blamed mostly on North Africans and Arabs.

She has seen her long-stellar poll ratings slide ahead of three state elections in March. A poll published by news weekly Focus found that 40 per cent of respondents want Merkel to resign.

Late on Thursday, Merkel’s coalition government, after months of wrangling, hammered out a deal to limit numbers by blocking some migrant family reunifications and declaring three North African nations “safe countries of origin”. The agreement means citizens of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia will have little chance of gaining political asylum, mirroring steps Germany took for several Balkan countries last year.

Germany will also block family reunifications for two years for rejected asylum seekers who can’t be deported because they face the threat of torture or the death penalty in their own country.Across Europe, debate has raged on how to handle the biggest migrant wave since World War II, with Sweden and Finland announcing plans to deport tens of thousands of failed asylum seekers.

Several eastern European countries have sealed their borders, and Hungary’s hardline Prime Minister Victor Orban reiterated Friday that “migration is a security issue”, linking it to “the threat of terrorism and crime”.

Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2016

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