European Union pressures Turkey to open its borders to aid refugee crisis

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel held talks Monday on calming the crisis of refugees streaming into Europe as Turkey faces pressure from the European Union to open its borders.

In her weekly video message on Saturday, Merkel said European Union countries agree that the bloc needs to protect its external borders better, which is why she is seeking a solution with Turkey. She added that, if Europe wants to prevent smuggling, "we must be prepared to take in quotas of refugees legally and bear our part of the task."

"I don't think Europe can keep itself completely out of this," Merkel said.

Her talks in Ankara come as Turkey faces pressure from the EU to open its border to up to 35,000 Syrians who have massed along the frontier in the past few days fleeing an onslaught by government forces.

One refugee, Muhammed Idris, told Reuters that he had fled from the nearby Syrian town of Azaz and aimed on entering Syria, based on the open-door policy touted by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

But he has been waiting for at a refugee camp for at least four days to get into Turkey.

"Before, Tayyip Erdogan was saying on TV that Syria and Turkey are brothers, but now he is not opening the doors," Idris said. "Our houses are destroyed and we came to his house. Where else should we go?"

Turkey, home to 2.5 million Syrian refugees, says it has reached its capacity to absorb refugees but has indicated that it will continue to provide refuge.

Refugees at the Oncupinar crossing near the Turkish city of Kilis were being shepherded into camps on the Syria side, Reuters reported Monday.

“Our doors are not closed, but at the moment there is no need to host such people inside our borders," said Suleyman Tapsiz, the local governor in the region on the Turkish side of the border.

A Turkish aid official said refugees on the Syrian side were safe and we being given food.

"We're extending our efforts inside Syria to supply shelter, food and medical assistance to people," an official from the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation told the BBC.

Turkey agreed in November to fight smuggling networks and help curb irregular migration. In return, the EU has pledged $3.3 billion to help improve the condition of refugees, and to grant political concessions to Turkey, including an easing of visa restrictions and the fast-tracking of its EU membership process.

Turkey has since started to require Syrians arriving from third countries to apply for visas, in a bid to exclude those who aim to continue on to Greece.

Turkey has agreed to grant work permits to Syrians as an incentive for them to stay in Turkey. Ankara has also announced plans to increase coast guards' capabilities and designate human smuggling as a form of organized crime — which would bring stiffer punishments.

Meanwhile, another 33 people died Monday off Turkey's coast attempting to reach Greece.

Turkey's coast guard said 22 migrants died after their boat capsized in the Bay of Edremit, while four people were rescued. Further south, another 11 people died in a separate boat accident, according to the private Dogan news agency.

The coast guard has launched a search-and-rescue mission, including helicopters, to try to find 14 migrants who are reported to be missing.

The International Organization for Migration says 374 refugees and other migrants have died so far this year while trying to reach Greece. Turkey, a key country on their route to Europe, is central to Merkel's diplomatic efforts to reduce the flow. Germany saw an unprecedented 1.1 million asylum seekers arrive last year, many of them fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.