Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday said 50,000 people were fleeing Syria’s northwestern region of Idlib to Turkey and slammed Muslim nations for not supporting his plans to resettle refugees in other parts of north Syria, Reuters reported.
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 3 million Syrians live in the last significant insurgent-held swathe of territory.
Syrian and Russian forces carry out regular airstrikes against targets in Idlib, which President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to recapture, pushing more people toward the Turkish border.
“Look, 50,000 people are once again coming from Idlib to our lands,” Erdoğan told a meeting of Muslim leaders in Malaysia. “We already have 4 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 911 kilometer (570 mile) southern border since the outbreak of Syria’s eight-year conflict.
Erdoğan is seeking international support for plans to settle 1 million Syrians in part of northeast Syria that Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies seized from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in a cross-border incursion in October.
Ankara has received little public backing for its plans, and Erdogan said that world powers, including Muslim nations, were more concerned about sending arms to Syria than supporting a Turkish “safe zone.”
“Is the Muslim world that poor? Why don’t they support this?” he said. “Even if they just gave alms, there would be no poverty here, no have-nots,” he said.
“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 in northern Syria in three years, Turkey seized a 120 kilometer (75 mile) stretch of border territory two months ago from the YPG, which had spearheaded the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria with US 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 a four-decade insurgency in southeast Turkey in which tens of thousands of people have been killed.