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Tusk: 3 Million More Refugees Could Flee Syria

  • RFE/RL

EU Council President Donald Tusk says that Turkey has warned the European Union that millions of more refugees could flee the civil war in Syria.

Tusk told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg on October 6 that "according to Turkish estimates, another 3 million potential refugees" could come just from Aleppo -- Syria's largest city -- and the surrounding regions.

He added that "today millions of potential refugees and migrants are dreaming about Europe."

Tusk warned EU deputies that "the world around us does not intend to help Europe" and said some of the EU's neighbors "look with satisfaction at our troubles."

An estimated 250,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war since it began in 2011 and millions of people displaced.

Tusk's statements come one day after he and other European officials met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Brussels to discuss ways to stem the spiraling migrant crisis.

The European Union has pushed Erdogan to do more to stop the flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees who have landed on Europe's shores from Turkey in the worst migration crisis since World War II.

"It is indisputable that Europe has to manage its borders better. We expect Turkey to do the same," Tusk said as he stood by Erdogan.

But the Turkish leader insisted that his country was bearing the brunt of the problem, with around 2 million Syrian refugees on its territory, and pressed Brussels to do more.

Erdogan's visit came as Germany estimated it might receive up to 1.5 million asylum seekers in 2015 -- a tidal wave that is stoking resistance at home.

Thousands took to the streets of the eastern city of Dresden late on October 5, accusing German Chancellor Angela Merkel of "treason" and "crimes against the German people" for taking in so many refugees.

"It won't stop with 1.5 or 2 million," said Lutz Bachmann, co-founder of the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement that organized the march. "They will have their wives come and one, two, three children. It is an impossible task to integrate these people."

In Brussels, Erdogan, a strong opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said the "root cause" of the refugee crisis was the "state-sponsored terrorism actually carried out by Assad himself."

"If we would like to resolve the refugee issue there are three things we have to do. One is to focus on training and equipment, the second one is to declare a safe zone that would be protected from terrorism, and the third is a no-fly zone," he said.

Erdogan also expressed hope that Turkey would be included on an EU "safe list" of countries whose nationals are unlikely to qualify for asylum because of an absence of state persecution. Some EU capitals have been hesitant to include Turkey on the list because of concerns about its treatment of Kurds.

Erdogan argued that Ankara's open-door policy towards refugees "is proof in itself that Turkey is a safe country," adding that any discussion on this "would very seriously sadden us."

The EU had its own ideas, including giving Turkey 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in aid to help feed, house, and educate refugees.

Brussels and Ankara reportedly discussed a European Commission plan to have Turkey join Greek coast guard patrols in the eastern Aegean.

Any migrants picked up would be taken back to Turkey where six new camps for up to 2 million people would be built, co-financed by the EU.

European officials were also set to push Turkey to tackle people smugglers, a scourge that was once again in the spotlight after police in Athens arrested an Afghan smuggler accused of keeping 34 migrants, including 12 minors, locked up in an apartment.

Chances of an immediate deal were slim. The migrant crisis has further taxed relations between Erdogan and Brussels, long strained by EU criticism over human rights and by tortuous negotiations on Turkey's application for membership in the bloc.

Meanwhile, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on October 6 that nearly 100 migrants have died in the Mediterranean Sea in the past three days trying, by boat, to make their way to the European Union.

The IOM said 557,899 migrants have arrived in Europe from Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa this year and an estimated 2,987 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP
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