Middle East

EU and Turkey urge each other to do more for refugees

A Syrian refugee hangs her washings on a tent at a refugee camp on the outskirts of Azaz in Syria, 30 km north-northwest of Aleppo at the Syrian-Turkish border. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

LUXEMBOURG: The European Union said Monday it would continue assisting Turkey in coping with an influx of more than 100,000 refugees from Syria but made no offer to take them in.

“Clearly we need to concentrate on the shelter of refugees there,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said during talks among the EU’s 27 foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

“These refugees don’t want to leave their country for ever, they have family, they have personal ties with the country, they want to return to their country as quickly as possible,” he said.

Luxembourg counterpart Jean Asselborn agreed. “We can’t take planes and transport these people to Europe and say the problem is settled,” he said.

The ministers were responding to a call by Turkey’s European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis for Europe to do more to help Ankara tackle the influx.

“Europe should start thinking about the people who have fled Syria into Turkey,” Bagis said in an interview with German daily Die Welt. “Europe has to help people who need a safe haven. It’s time for Europe to finally help out.”

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Brussels had been helping Turkey “for some time” and would continue to do so.

Turkey’s problem was that it needed time to prepare facilities, she noted.

“For them the big issue is making sure they can provide the services they want to provide. We’re offering help and support to them and to all the neighbors in the region.”

The United Nations estimates that more than 2.5 million people have been affected by the fighting. There are more than 348,000 Syrian refugees registered in neighboring countries, but many more are unregistered. The number of Syrians fleeing the conflict in their homeland and seeking refuge in Turkey now exceeds 100,000, a Turkish disaster agency said.

Turkey is home to 100,363 refugees housed in several camps in the southeast along the Syrian border, the AFAD disaster agency said in a statement.

Several thousand more are estimated to be unregistered and staying in hotels or apartments in the country.

Turkey, a fierce opponent of the regime in Damascus, has said it can handle no more than 100,000 refugees and has called for safe zones to protect people on Syrian soil. Turkish officials have said however that Ankara would not close its doors to refugees if the number exceeded the threshold.

Jordan says it is planning to open a second camp for Syrian refugees, whose numbers are expected to climb to 250,000 by the year’s end.

Government spokesman for Syrian refugee affairs Anmar Hmoud says the proposed site is 44 kilometers east of the capital Amman. He did not say when it would open.

The U.N. refugee agency says Jordan currently hosts 210,000 Syrian refugees – the largest number in the region. Those arriving through unofficial border crossings are housed in Zaatari camp, now home to more than 33,000 refugees. Many more live among Jordanian families.

Hmoud said the new camp could initially house 5,000 but expand to hold 45,000 residents.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 16, 2012, on page 8.




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