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Turkey Rebuffs Europe's Call to Host Afghan Refugees

Young men who say they deserted the Afghan military and fled to Turkey through Iran stand in the countryside in Tatvan, in Bitlis Province in eastern Turkey, Aug. 17, 2021.

The European Union and Britain are looking to Turkey to become a hub to process Afghan refugees seeking sanctuary in Europe. Turkey is rejecting the call.

The Turkish government is dismissing calls from Europe for it to become a hub to process Afghan refugees. Government spokesman Omer Celik said Monday that with Turkey already hosting nearly five million refugees, mainly from the Syrian civil war, it can take no more.

Celik says Turkey does not have a capacity to take in one more refugee. He said Turkey is not a refugee camp nor is it a transit point.

Celik's comments were in response to British media reports Sunday citing defense ministry sources, who said London was looking to countries like Turkey to create processing centers for Afghan refugees.

Similar suggestions in the last few days were made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the president of the European Council, Charles Michel.

Under a deal with the EU, Turkey is already hosting nearly four million Syrian refugees from the civil war in exchange for billions of dollars in aid.

But analyst Asli Aydintasbas says Turkish public opinion is strongly against any new deal over Afghan refugees.

"We have a situation in which Turkey and the EU (are) negotiating these sorts of large sums, as a refugee deal, in which Turkey gets to keep the refugees," Aydintasbas said. "I think there is across-the-board resentment about Europe sort of using Turkey as a refugee camp on its borders, so to speak. People are upset about this. But it's a huge political cost for Turkey. People simply are questioning the government's refugee policy."

Resentment over refugee presence exploded into violence earlier this month in a suburb of the capital, Ankara, where hundreds of people attacked the homes and shops of Syrian migrants.

Ankara is now stepping up efforts to secure its Iranian border, the main transit route for Afghans seeking to enter Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the construction of a barrier on the frontier would be accelerated.

Additional Turkish forces are being deployed on the nearly 300-kilometer-long Iranian border, equipped with the latest surveillance equipment.

Hüseyin Ediz Tercanoglu, head of Turkish security on the Iranian border, said Monday the border would be secure against any refugee surge.

Tercanoglu said Turkish forces are working in places where smuggling used to be common, adding that the entire area is monitored by 360-degree rotating thermal cameras. If there's any movement, he said, troops can be dispatched there.

Displays of such force are aimed primarily at a Turkish public fatigued by the presence of millions of refugees and Europe to send a message that Turkey will not be the host of another massive influx of refugees.