BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Turkey next month to urge President Tayyip Erdogan to uphold the migration pact he agreed with the European Union, Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported, responding to fears that conflict in Syria could unleash a new refugee wave.
Erdogan warned on Sunday that Turkey, which already hosts about 3.7 million Syrian refugees, would not be able to handle a new wave of migrants if Syrian-Russian attempts to retake rebel-held Idlib province sent more people fleeing.
A German government spokeswoman declined to confirm Sueddeutsche Zeitung’s report on Thursday, saying only that Merkel’s travel plans were always announced on the Friday of the preceding week.
The two leaders last met in December in London where they discussed the situation in Syria with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Under the 2015 migration pact, Turkey hosts refugees heading for Europe in exchange for financial support. Few in the German government want to see a repeat of that year’s migrant crisis, when Germany had to open its doors to over a million people, most seeking refuge from the Syrian conflict.
The migration wave, the largest Europe had seen since World War Two, transformed Germany’s and Europe’s politics, spurring far-right, anti-immigration politicians into legislatures across the continent and fuelling Britain’s vote to leave the EU.
Migrant numbers have started to pick up again recently as Damascus and Moscow move to retake Idlib, the last significant rebel-held enclave in Syria, where up to 3 million people live. On Sunday, Erdogan said more than 80,000 were heading to Turkey.
“If the violence toward the people of Idlib does not stop, this number will increase even more. In that case, Turkey will not carry such a migrant burden on its own,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan has previously threatened to “open the gates” for migrants to Europe unless Turkey received more support in hosting the refugees.
Reporting by Thomas Escritt, editing by Ed Osmond