Merkel's liberal refugee policy 'unsustainable', says French PM

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Migrants make their way across the Macedonia-Serbia border at Tabanovce on February 4, 2016

Migrants make their way across the Macedonia-Serbia border at Tabanovce on February 4, 2016 (AFP Photo/Robert Atanasovski)

Berlin (AFP) - Germany's liberal refugee policy which ushered in 1.1 million asylum-seekers last year is not sustainable, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned Friday, as Chancellor Angela Merkel said a group of EU countries may take more in.

"This policy, which is justified temporarily, is unsustainable in the long term," Valls told German regional media group Funke, pointing to the limited capacity not just in Germany, but also across Europe, to receive newcomers.

"We have to say this clearly: Europe cannot take in all migrants from Syria, Iraq or Africa. It has to regain control over its borders, over its migration or asylum policies," said Valls, who is travelling to southern Germany to attend the Munich Security Conference.

However Merkel, without naming the EU members involved, said there was "a group of countries" which may voluntarily accept more refugees in exchange for redoubled efforts from Turkey to tackle illegal immigration into, and out of, its territory.

This group, which will meet on the margins of an EU summit in Brussels on February 18-19, could also help Turkey financially, she told a press conference in Berlin.

Turkey, which is already hosting 2.7 million Syrian refugees, "has been abandoned in the face of this human tragedy," the country's Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan told reporters Friday at a border crossing with Syria.

Confronted with the impossibility of reaching unanimous EU agreement on a method of sharing out refugees, Merkel has been talking for weeks of bringing together a group of member states dubbed "the coalition of the willing" in the media.

- 'Simply stupid' -

On the sidelines of an EU summit in December, Germany gathered officials from Austria, Belgium, Finland, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherland and Sweden for talks, perhaps a glimpse of a future coalition.

The French prime minister's criticisms, which are due to be published on Saturday, came after his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev lambasted Merkel's asylum policy.

"It's quite simply stupid to open Europe's doors wide and invite in everyone who wants to come to your country," Medvedev said in an interview to be published this weekend by the economic daily Handelsblatt.

"European migration policy is a total failure, all that is absolutely frightening," Medvedev added.

Opposition has also been growing within Germany against Merkel's decision to open up the country to those fleeing war and persecution.

An opinion poll published late January showed that nearly 40 percent of German voters want Merkel to quit over her asylum policy.

The chancellor has pledged to "tangibly" reduce the number of migrants and asylum seekers arriving this year with a range of measures in Germany, at European level and with the help of international partners such as Turkey.

Europe's deep divisions on how to handle the mass refugee influx are playing into the hands of the Islamic State jihadist group, Germany's defence minister warned Friday.

"The historic mission of Europe for the past 70 years, to be a symbol of freedom and values, threatens to be drowned out by xenophobia and nationalism," said Ursula von der Leyen.

"This is grist to the propaganda mill of the IS. European division plays especially into the hands of those who want to corrode European unity -- from within and from outside."

In her opening speech to the three-day Munich Security Conference, the minister urged a determined fight against IS, but also greater humanity for those on the run from war.

"How can a continent of 500 million citizens see its foundations shaken and capitulate by 1.5 million or 2 million refugees?" she said.