Turkey has played a key role in assisting refugees and stemming the flow of irregular migrants to Europe, but its European neighbors have failed to come through on their commitments of support, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Tuesday at a summit in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Erdoğan told participants at the Southeast European Countries Cooperation Process (SEECP) summit in Sarajevo that Turkey has made an “invaluable contribution” to the security of Europe. He noted that Turkey’s efforts have significantly reduced the transition of migrants to Europe and prevented tragedies in the Aegean, a route irregular migrants have used to reach Greece.
“We have made invaluable contributions to the security of the entire European continent, particularly to the Balkan countries. However, we did not see the support and humanitarian attitude that we expect from our European friends during this difficult time,” Erdoğan said.
“Contribution commitments to our country were not fulfilled. Only 2.5 billion euros of the 6 billion euros were released,” he said, referring to the 2016 migration pact with the EU promising 6 billion euros ($6.72 billion) in financial aid in exchange for Turkey taking back irregular migrants from Greece.
Erdoğan said the Balkan region is facing a wave of irregular migration from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and North Africa. “Even while European countries can’t reach agreements on refugee quotas, Turkey now hosts more than 4 million refugees, including 3.6 million Syrians,” he added.
He said Turkey has spent nearly $40 billion for Syrian refugees alone.
Since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced, according to U.N. figures.
According to Interior Ministry figures, the number of refugees was 4.2 million in 2017 and has now reached 4.9 million. While 3.6 million Syrians are living in Turkey, more than 415,000 Syrians have been born in Turkey since the start of the civil war in 2011.
Despite some factions in Turkey becoming restive due to a record number of refugees in various cities and a large amount of money spent on them amid deteriorating economic conditions in the country, the government insists on keeping its open-door policy along with maximum support for refugees.
EU Ambassador to Turkey Christian Berger said last month that Ankara has been carrying out some great work by hosting millions of refugees from Syria and other parts of the world, adding that its achievement was not recognized enough.
Ankara and Brussels signed an agreement in 2016 to find a solution to the influx of refugees heading to the union. According to the deal, Turkey was promised a total of 6 billion euros in financial aid, which was initially designed to be given to the country in two stages and be used by the Turkish government to finance projects for Syrian refugees. Visa freedom for Turkish citizens was also to be provided under the agreement. Lastly, the customs union was also to be updated in accordance with the deal.
In exchange for these promises, Turkey took the responsibility of discouraging irregular migration through the Aegean Sea by taking stricter measures against human traffickers and improving the conditions of more than 3 million Syrians living in Turkey.
Despite significant developments in the control of migration traffic, the EU has not delivered on its commitments.
Earlier in May, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said the number of Syrians who returned home had reached nearly 330,000 since Turkey successfully completed effective counterterrorism operations in northern Syria.
Turkey cleared an area of approximately 4,000 square kilometers of two terrorist groups, Daesh and the PKK-affiliated People’s Protection Units (YPG), in two operations in 2016 and 2017. It helped the Free Syrian Army (FSA) weed out terrorists from al-Bab, Jarablus and other towns during Operation Euphrates Shield, and from Afrin in Operation Olive Branch.
Erdoğan arrived in Bosnia-Herzegovina on Monday to attend the two-day SEECP Summit. His visit includes bilateral meetings with members of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Presidential Council and with other participating leaders, as well as a visit to Turkish soldiers deployed as part of the Turkish Military Representative to the European Union Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
On Tuesday, Erdoğan will commemorate the 24th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, in which over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were massacred by Bosnian-Serb forces under President Slobodan Milosevic and General Ratko Mladic.