Turkey cannot handle a fresh wave of migrants from Syria and "will not bear all alone the burden," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday, warning that Europe would feel the impact as tens of thousands of refugees headed toward the Turkish border.
More than 3.6 million refugees are estimated to have sought safety in Turkey since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the largest refugee population in the world.
Around 80,000 refugees escaping violence in opposition-held Idlib, in northwestern Syria, were heading to the Turkish border, Erdogan said at a news conference in Istanbul Sunday, according to state news agency Anadolu.
“In such a case, Turkey will not bear all alone the burden of this migration,” Erdogan said. “If violence against the people of Idlib does not end, this number will rise further.”
The effect would be felt by all European countries, especially Greece, Erdogan added.
More than a million Syrians fleeing the fighting have amassed near the Turkish border, according to Anadolu. It did not provide any details on whether those fleeing from Idlib would be admitted into Turkey.
In October, Erdogan threatened to “open the doors” and allow the Syrian refugees currently sheltering in Turkey to enter the rest of Europe if he didn’t receive more assistance from the European Union.
Attempts by the United Nations Security Council to approve further aid deliveries from Turkey and Iraq to Syrian civilians were blocked by Russia and China on Friday. Erdogan said he is sending a delegation to Moscow on Monday to discuss the situation and try to bring a halt to the attacks on Idlib, Anadolu reported.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Saturday that Russia and China had “blood on (their) hands.”
“Russia’s and China’s vetoes of this resolution demonstrate that these governments simply do not care that the horrible Syrian regime continues to obstruct and deny humanitarian access to its own people,” he said in a statement.
Turkey and Russia agreed last year to designate the province of Idlib as a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression are prohibited, but in recent weeks the Syrian government, and its Russian backers, have intensified artillery and airstrikes in the region.
Syria has said in the past that it is targeting terrorists in the Idlib area. Idlib is one of the last areas held by the Syrian opposition after almost eight years of clashes with the regime led by President Bashar Al-Assad.
Hundreds of Idlib residents marched in protest against the new bombing campaign on Friday, shouting anti-Syrian government and anti-Russian slogans. At least 50 civilians have been killed in just five days by the bombing campaign, according to rescue group the White Helmets.
“People under missile attacks. There are massacres. Kids have been killed, our lands have been destroyed, enough,” one Idlib resident and protester Ahmad Abu Kays said in a voice message to CNN.