About 50,000 people are fleeing Syria‘s northwest region of Idlib to Turkey, its president has said, denouncing Muslim nations for not supporting his plan to resettle refugees in other parts of northern Syria.
Turkey currently hosts some 3.7 million Syrian refugees, the largest refugee population in the world, and fears another influx from the Idlib region, where up to three million Syrians live in the last significant opposition-held swathe of territory.
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Syrian and Russian forces carry out regular air raids against targets in Idlib, which President Bashar al-Assad has promised to recapture, pushing more people towards the Turkish border.
“We already have four million people and now another 50,000 are coming and this may increase.”
He gave no details and did not say whether the Syrians had actually crossed into Turkey, which has built a wall along its 910-kilometre (570-mile) southern border since the outbreak of Syria’s eight-year conflict.
Erdogan is seeking international support for plans to settle one million Syrians in parts of northeast Syria, which Turkish forces and their Syrian opposition allies seized from the Kurdish YPG militia in a cross-border military operation in October.
Ankara has received little public backing for the plan and Erdogan said world powers, including Muslim nations, were more concerned about sending arms to Syria than about supporting a Turkish “safe zone”.
“Is the Muslim world that poor? Why don’t they support this?” he said. “Even if they just gave their alms, there would no poverty here, no have-nots.”
“They provide no support when we call on them to form a safe zone, but when it comes to weapons, the arms come,” he said.
In its third offensive into northern Syria in three years, Turkey seized a 120km (75-mile) stretch of border territory two months ago from the YPG, which had spearheaded the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group with American support.
Washington’s backing for the YPG has infuriated Turkey, which considers it a “terrorist” group because of its links to Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters, who have waged an armed uprising in southeast Turkey in which thousands of people have been killed.