German Chancellor Angela Merkel is meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on Friday for talks that are expected to focus on the future of a migration deal between Turkey and the EU that helped decrease refugee flows to Europe.
Merkel and Erdogan are scheduled to attend the opening ceremony of a Turkish-German university’s new campus. But the visit comes amid fears of a possible new refugee influx as thousands flee new Syrian government attacks in a northern Syrian province.
Already, the number of migrants entering Europe from Turkey rose significantly last year as people fleeing conflict in Syria and Afghanistan arrived in Greece, leading to deteriorating conditions in overcrowded camps on the eastern Aegean islands.
Spearheaded by Germany, the EU agreed in 2016 to grant Turkey up to 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) in Syrian refugee aid money and other incentives to persuade the government in Ankara to stop migrants leaving for Greece.
Erdogan, however, frequently accuses the EU of not fulfilling its side of the deal and has in the past threatened to “open the gates” for migrants to depart for Europe.
He says his country cannot be expected to shoulder the burden of hosting more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey alone and is seeking European support to settle Syrian refugees in a so-called “safe zone” in northern Syria. European nations are reluctant to back such a proposal.
Merkel arrived in Istanbul days after she hosted a meeting in Berlin on the conflict on Libya, where world powers pledged to halt foreign interference and honor a widely violated arms embargo.
Turkey backs the embattled U.N.-backed administration in Libya and, in a contentious move, announced it had started to deploy troops. It later said it has deployed a team of trainers, not combat troops.
The chancellor’s visits also comes amid rising tensions with the EU over Turkey’s bid to drill for natural gas in waters in the eastern Mediterranean where EU-member Cyprus says it has economic rights. Cyprus last week denounced Turkey as a “pirate” state that flouts international law.
Turkey, however, insists it’s protecting its rights and interests, and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots, to the region’s energy resources. It says it’s carrying out drilling activities as part of an agreement with the Turkish Cypriots.