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Erdogan threatens Europe with Syrian refugees

Turkey hosts 3.5 million refugees from war-torn neighbour Syria and has warned it may open its gates to Europe unless a safe zone is established in Syria
Turkey aims to resettle at least 1 million of the 3.65 million Syrian refugees it hosts (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Thursday that Turkey would reopen the routes for Syrian refugees into Europe if it does not receive adequate international support.

Turkey hosts more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, the largest population of Syrians displaced by an eight-year civil war. Turkey also controls parts of northern Syria where it says 350,000 Syrians have returned.

Speaking in Ankara, Erdogan said more refugees could return and Turkey was determined to create a “safe zone” in Syria in partnership with the United States. But if there was no agreement reached by the end of the month, it was prepared to do it alone.

“We are saying we should form such a safe zone that we, as Turkey, can build towns here in lieu of the tent cities here. Let’s carry them to the safe zones there,” Erdogan said.

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“Give us logistical support and we can go build housing at a 30-km depth in northern Syria. This way, we can provide them with humanitarian living conditions.”

“This either happens or otherwise we will have to open the gates,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan claimed Turkey had spent $40 billion on refugees and criticised the West, especially the European Union, for failing to live up to its promises.

 “Either you will provide support, or excuse us, but we are not going to carry this weight alone. We have not been able to get help from the international community, namely the European Union.”

Turkey aims to resettle about one million out of the 3.65 million Syrian refugees, Erdogan added.

“Our goal is for at least one million of our Syrian brothers to return to the safe zone we will form along our 450km border,” Erdogan said.

Under a 2016 deal agreed between the European Union and Turkey, Ankara agreed to stem the flow of migrants into Europe in return for six billion euros ($6.6 billion) in aid. Erdogan has claimed only three billion euros have so far been paid out.

The number of migrant arrivals in neighbouring Greece spiked last month. A week ago more than a dozen migrant boats carrying 600 people arrived, the first simultaneous arrival of its kind in three years.

Turkey expects a fresh influx of refugees as the Syrian government advances into the last rebel stronghold of Idlib. 

It also hosts hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans fleeing conflict in their countries.

With Syria's conflict showing no signs of ending in the near future, after eight years of war anti-refugee sentiment in Turkey is growing; with refugees fearing the country's unequaled welcome may come to an end.