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German crisis talks falter as 13 more migrants drown off Greece

By AFP - Nov 01,2015 - Last updated at Nov 01,2015

Refugees and migrants cross by boat the Aegean Sea from Turkey to reach the Greek island of Lesbos, on Saturday (AFP photo)

BERLIN — At least 13 migrants seeking to reach Europe drowned off Greece on Sunday as political talks in Germany, the EU's top destination for refugees, failed to produce a consensus on how to handle the influx.

Two boats making the hazardous crossing from Turkey capsized in the Aegean Sea off the Greek islands of Samos and Lesbos, leaving at least 13 dead including six children, with many more missing, officials said.

In Berlin on Sunday, Germany's ruling coalition failed to resolve major differences over the country's refugee policy as it grapples with the biggest wave of arrivals since the aftermath of World War II.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the talks would resume on Thursday, after two rounds of weekend negotiations between Merkel and the leaders of her CDU Party's two coalition partners ended without a breakthrough.

"Several points... still need to be resolved including the issue of 'transit zones'," he said, referring to a proposal to create airport-style processing points on Germany's borders to allow would-be refugees who do not fulfil asylum criteria to be moved out quickly. 

Merkel called the emergency talks after her Bavarian ally, Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union (CSU) Party, threatened her with unspecified consequences if she did not take action to limit the number of newcomers arriving into Germany by Sunday.

The vast majority of the up to one million people expected to arrive in the country this year are crossing the border from Austria into Bavaria.

While most Germans initially backed Merkel's open-doors policy for those fleeing war and persecution, a growing backlash has piled pressure on the chancellor and exposed rifts within her conservative bloc.

The popular Merkel, who will mark a decade in power this month, has led a left-right "grand coalition" of her Christian Union alliance and the Social Democrats (SPD) since 2013.

The SPD has rejected the conservatives' transit zones proposal as too restrictive and called instead for each of Germany's 16 states to create registration centres for asylum seekers.

Europe's top economy has taken a range of steps in recent weeks to stem the tide of arrivals.

These include limiting the right to political asylum to exceptional cases for nationals from Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo, and accelerating expulsion procedures for those denied asylum.

On Friday, Germany announced that migrants massing at its border with Austria would now be funnelled through five entry points to foster a more "orderly" passage.

The new Mediterranean sinkings add to a string of migrant boat tragedies since Monday off Lesbos and the fellow Greek islands of Kalymnos and Rhodes in which more than 60 people have drowned, at least 28 of them children.

With the arrival of rough winter weather, and fears that Europe is about to close its doors to refugees, more than 80 people — most of them children — drowned trying to reach Greece in October, according to an AFP count.

 

Since the beginning of the year, over 600,000 migrants have landed on Greece's shores, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

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