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Turkey Resists Pressure to Take Afghan Refugees, Calls for Global Response

FILE - Afghan migrants sit in the countryside in Tatvan, in Bitlis Province, eastern Turkey, Aug. 18, 2021.
FILE - Afghan migrants sit in the countryside in Tatvan, in Bitlis Province, eastern Turkey, Aug. 18, 2021.

Turkey is calling for collective international action to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The call comes as Turkey, already hosting the largest number of refugees globally, warns it cannot take any more.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, addressing a high-level United Nations meeting on Afghanistan Monday, warned that with millions of Afghans displaced and facing a humanitarian crisis, now is the time for collective action.

A humanitarian and security crisis in Afghanistan would have direct implications across the globe. So, we should take the collective action now.

Turkish leaders fear an Afghan exodus through its territory as refugees flee Afghanistan and head for Europe.

Last week, the UN High Commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, paid a four-day visit to Turkey and praised the country for receiving nearly four million refugees who fled the Syrian civil war.

Under a deal with the European Union, Turkey gets billions of dollars in aid to host the Syrians.

Some EU leaders are already suggesting the agreement be extended to include Afghans, claiming refugees should be hosted in locations closest to their places of origin.

But Turkey’s main opposition CHP party is strongly critical of the government's refugee policy.

"It is a record of serious mismanagement. It was simply a transactional relationship between Turkey and the European Union," said Unal Cevikoz is a CHP parliamentary deputy. "And they simply wanted to stop the flow of refugees by giving some financial assistance to Turkey. A majority of the Turkish population thinks that burden-sharing is not fairly distributed in the international community, and we are also scared the same mismanagement will continue in the case of Afghanistan."

Senior EU officials visited Ankara last week to talk about the refugee deal with Turkey. Ankara insists it cannot take any more refugees and calls for the EU to share the burden.

Some analysts say Ankara needs the money from Europe, but international relations expert Sol Ozel says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will need more than monetary incentives to convince his people.

"He will have to show to the country something more than just money, and that is visa liberalization, which I don't [think] the Europeans are capable of delivering on," said Ozel.

Visa-free travel for Turks in the European Union was part of the original Syrian refugee deal, but until now has been blocked by some EU members.

With Erdogan’s ratings languishing at record lows in opinion polls and the same polls indicating strong public opposition to receiving Afghan refugees, analysts predict any new EU refugee deal with Turkey will be difficult and fraught with political risk for the Turkish leader.