Ankara (AFP) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday warned Europe that Turkey could not handle alone a new wave of Syrian refugees fleeing increased bombardment in the northwestern Idlib province.
Tens of thousands of Syrians have fled towards the Turkish border following heightened regime and Russian bombardment of the Maaret al-Numan region since December 16.
Jihadist-dominated Idlib hosts some three million people, including many displaced by violence in other parts of Syria. The Damascus regime has repeatedly vowed to take back control of the province.
“Turkey cannot handle a new refugee wave from Syria,” Erdogan said, adding that over 80,000 people from Idlib had fled to areas near the Turkish border.
If the flow increased, “Turkey will not carry this migration burden alone”, he added.
“The negative effects of this pressure on us will be an issue felt by all European countries, especially Greece,” he warned.
Europe would once again experience the same scenes before the Turkey-European Union migration deal signed in 2016, Erdogan said — a reference to the continent’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, when in 2015 more than a million fled to Europe.
As part of the agreement, the EU promised Ankara six billion euros ($6.6 billion) in exchange for stronger controls on refugees leaving its territory for Europe.
Erdogan has previously claimed that not all of that money arrived and has warned that Turkey could be forced to open the doors to Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe.
Turkish officials say Turkey is home to around five million refugees, among which 3.7 million are Syrians.
Despite being on opposing sides of the Syrian civil war, Turkey and Russia have worked closely to resolve the conflict.
Erdogan also said a Turkish delegation would go to Moscow on Monday for talks with their counterparts as part of Turkey’s efforts to end the attacks in Idlib.