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Turkish deputy PM says more than 50,000 refugees saved by coastguards

Numan Kurtulmus says Turkey has spent $7.6bn hosting 2.2 million refugees as he calls on European countries to show a 'helping hand'
Refugees in Edirne near the Greek and Bulgarian borders have been told to return to camps in southern Turkey by the weekend (Anadolu)

Turkish coastguards have saved more than 50,000 people from drowning as they sought to cross to Greek islands since the beginning of the Syrian refugee crisis, the country's deputy prime minister said on Friday as he urged European countries to show a "helping hand".

Numan Kurtulmus also said that Turkey had spent $7.6bn on the 2.2 million refugees currently hosted by the country and called for the establishment of a safe zone in northern Syria to alleviate the refugee crisis, which has seen thousands of people escaping from the conflict try to travel on from Turkey to European Union countries to claim asylum.

“Turkey's Coast Guards Units have rescued 53,228 refugees from drowning and 274 have lost their lives,” Kurtulmus said at a Syrian Coordination Meeting in Ankara, according to the Daily Sabah newspaper.

“Each day another boat carrying refugees across the Mediterranean Sea sinks. Boats are sinking and thousands of people get stranded in the sea. Unfortunately, many of them lose their lives.”

Kurtulmus said that just $418mn of the $7.6bn spent by Turkey had come from international platforms, with some pointing out that Turkey's total spending exceeded the annual global budget of the United Nations' UNHCR refugee agency.

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Calling for the creation of a safe zone, he added: "This is an indispensable fact for Syrians to settle in a safe region in their country... We are trying to create the necessary policies with the international community to test the safe zone."

Kurtulmus said thousands of refugees who had made their way to Istanbul's main bus station and to the town of Edirne near the Greek and Bulgarian borders had been convinced to return to their camps, but called on European countries to show a “helping hand” by announcing how many refugees they were prepared to accept.

He said refugees could then be transferred by plane, rather than being left to gather in the open near border crossings.

"Our primary concern is infants and children as they are in miserable conditions. If European countries announce how many refugees they will accept, we are ready to send people there," he said.

Dursun Ali Sahin, the governor of Erdine province, on Thursday told the Anadolu news agency that hundreds of refugees who had been staging a sit-in at Edirne's bus station had been given until the weekend to return to camps in southern Turkey.

“They have to leave here tomorrow and the day after tomorrow,” he said. “The refugees have been misinformed about migration to European countries and so they come to Edirne. If they stay in Edirne they will try to reach Greece or Bulgaria. We cannot permit them to stay here.”
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