Turkey is not Europe’s ‘refugee warehouse,’ Erdoğan says amid Afghanistan crisis

Turkey is not Europe’s refugee warehouse, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said amid an increase in recent weeks in the number of Afghans making their way into Turkey across the border from Iran.

“Turkey has no duty, responsibility or obligation to be Europe’s refugee warehouse,” Erdoğan said in a televised address following a Cabinet meeting on Thursday and called on European countries to shoulder the responsibility for Afghans fleeing the Taliban as European politicians increasingly point to Ankara to solve the new Afghan refugee influx.

“We need to remind our European friends of the following fact: Europe, which has become a center of attraction for millions of people, cannot stay out of this problem by firmly closing its borders in order to protect the safety and prosperity of its citizens,” Erdoğan said, adding that “Europe, by doing so, is not only violating international law but is also turning its back on humanitarian values.”

According to the Turkish president, Turkey is home to 5 million foreign nationals including 3.6 million Syrians who fled the civil war in the neighboring country and 300,000 Afghans. Around 1.1 million are foreigners with residence permits, he said.

The Taliban’s offensive has revived memories in Europe of a 2015-16 refugee crisis that Turkey helped stop by sheltering millions of people in exchange for billions of euros in aid.

On March 18, 2016 the European Council and Turkey reached an agreement aimed at stopping the flow of irregular migration via Turkey to Europe. According to the EU-Turkey Statement, all new irregular migrants and asylum seekers arriving from Turkey in the Greek islands and whose applications for asylum are declared inadmissible should be returned to Turkey. The EU pledged €3 billion in 2016-2017 and another €3 billion in 2018-2019 to Turkey as its part of the deal.

President Erdoğan said he was aware of the Turkish public’s “unease” about refugees. He reiterated that the country had reinforced its border with Iran with military, gendarmerie and police and that a wall being erected along the frontier is nearing completion.

Anti-refugee protesters attacked houses, shops and cars owned by Syrians in Ankara’s Altındağ district last Tuesday and Wednesday following reports that a Syrian refugee stabbed two Turkish men in a fight.

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has launched an investigation into 61 people following the attacks. According to a statement issued by the office, Turkish prosecutors are investigating 35 individuals for their role in the attacks and 26 social media users who shared “provocative” posts.

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