German Chancellor Angela Merkel Friday robustly defended the European Union’s deal to send back migrants to Turkey as polls pointed to deep skepticism at home about the accord, which human rights groups have criticized.
Merkel insists that the deal with Turkey, which hosts some 2.7 million Syrians, is the key to reducing the flow of migrants to Europe. The first migrants were sent back from Greece Monday.
The accord also calls for the EU to take in some Syrians directly from Turkey, funds for Ankara, visa-free travel for Turks and accelerated EU membership talks.
Merkel, a longtime opponent of full Turkish EU membership, said it is “right to try to cement its links to the European Union, without immediately having full membership in front of us” and to discuss visa freedom.
As for the deportations, Merkel said she is “firmly convinced that making clear we are pitting ourselves against illegal migration is right.” She said Europe can’t stand by and watch people smugglers taking control.