Erdogan says Turkey is not Europe’s ‘refugee warehouse’

Turkish leader said he would engage in talks with a government that could be formed by the Taliban

An Afghan migrant waits for transport by smugglers after crossing the Iran-Turkish border on August 15 in Tatvan, eastern Turkey. AFP
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Faced with a new migration wave from Afghanistan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on European nations on Thursday to shoulder the responsibility for Afghans fleeing the Taliban.

Mr Erdogan said that his country would not become Europe’s “refugee warehouse.”

In a televised address after a Cabinet meeting, he said his government would, “if necessary”, engage in talks with a government that could be formed by the Taliban, ”for the stability and security of this country".

There has been an increase in recent weeks in the number of Afghans making their way into Turkey across the border from Iran.

Anti-migrant sentiment is running high in Turkey as it tackles economic woes, including high unemployment, that have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and there is little desire to take in more people.

“We need to remind our European friends of this fact: Europe, which has become the centre of attraction for millions of people, cannot stay out of the problem by harshly sealing its borders to protect the safety and well-being of its citizens,” Mr Erdogan said.

“Turkey has no duty, responsibility or obligation to be Europe’s refugee warehouse."

He said Turkey was home to 5 million foreign nationals, including 3.6 million Syrians who fled the civil war in the neighbouring country, and 300,000 Afghans.

About 1.1 million are foreigners with residence permits, Mr Erdogan said.

In 2016, Ankara and the EU signed a deal for Turkey to stem the flow of hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees towards Europe, in return for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and EU financial support.

Mr Erdogan has frequently accused the EU of not keeping its side of the bargain.

He said he was aware of the Turkish public’s “unease” about refugees.

Mr Erdogan repeated that the country had reinforced its border with Iran with military, gendarmerie and police, and that a wall being built along the frontier was nearing completion.

“Our state is primarily responsible for the safety and well-being of its 84 million citizens," he said.

"On the other hand, we are not a society that lacks character, thinks only about itself and turns its back on those who come to our door."

In reference to the millions of Syrians in Turkey, Mr Erdogan said those who had learnt Turkish, acquired professional skills and adapted to the country would remain in Turkey, while others would have to return to Syria when conditions there improved.

“It is our responsibility towards our own citizens to help those who do not succeed to return to their homes in parallel with an improvement of the situation in their own country,” he said.

About 450,000 Syrians have already returned to Syria, Mr Erdogan said.

Updated: August 19, 2021, 9:11 PM