Political News

Merkel: Europe still 'hasn't done homework' on refugees

Posted August 29

— Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday that she did the right thing by allowing large numbers of migrants into Germany two years ago, but said Europe hasn't done enough to resolve the refugee problem properly since then.

At a wide-ranging news conference a day after she discussed the continuing influx of migrants from Africa with other European leaders, Merkel tackled head-on an issue that once looked likely to be a liability in Germany's Sept. 24 election but so far has failed to hurt her.

Recent polls suggest the chancellor's popularity has returned to levels from before 2015, when the refugee crisis reached its peak. They show Merkel's conservative bloc leading 13-17 percentage points over her main challenger, Martin Schulz of the center-left Social Democrats.

There's little sign of widespread desire for a change at the top after 12 years. The nationalist Alternative for Germany, or AfD, still appears set to enter parliament next month, but its poll showing has fallen well behind the levels it reached after nearly 1 million migrants arrived in Germany in 2015.

Since then, Merkel's government has tightened asylum procedures and implemented other measures, and the influx has receded.

"It was important and right that we took people in back then in this exceptional situation, and is also right that we must find long-term, sustainable structures," Merkel told reporters in Berlin.

"Europe itself still hasn't done its homework to this day," she said, adding that the continent cannot be selective in showing solidarity. She noted that the system under which migrants are supposed to seek asylum in the first European Union country where they arrive still needs reform, and that some nations are still refusing to take in a share of refugees arriving in Europe.

The chancellor also appeared unworried about voter blowback from eurozone bailouts, another issue that has drawn criticism in recent years but failed to ignite in the campaign.

"We had challenges, regarding saving the euro and the humanitarian challenge with refugees, where I told myself ... that we had to act in such situations," she said. "We couldn't convince everyone that we had to act, but it was very important for what we have in the way of values in our country."

Turning to foreign policy, Merkel called on Turkey to release German citizens swept up in the aftermath of last year's failed coup attempt, calling their imprisonment "unjustified."

Turkey has arrested about 10 Germans in recent months on charges the German government considers dubious.

Mentioning German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel and several others by name, Merkel told reporters: "Our demand is very clear: those people who are in prison should be freed."

The arrests have contributed to worsening relations between Berlin and Ankara, which have also been strained by other issues.

Merkel says "this is a very complicated phase of our relationship" with Turkey.

She says "we would like better relations, but that has something to do with the fulfillment of the principles of the rule of law."

Merkel sharply condemned a remark by a top AfD leader that her government's integration commissioner, who has Turkish roots, could be "disposed of in Anatolia."

The official, Aydan Ozoguz, had said that "a specifically German culture is, beyond the language, simply not identifiable."

Merkel said Tuesday that Alexander Gauland's comment "is racist and absolutely to be condemned."

Gauland has backed away from his use of the word "disposed" but otherwise has stood by his remarks.

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David Rising contributed to this story.

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