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Lack of refugee aid forced Turkey into Syria operation : Erdogan

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Geneva (AFP)

A lack of international assistance to Turkey to support millions of refugees on its soil pushed Ankara to launch operations in northeast Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday.

Despite broad international criticism, Turkish forces in October launched a major cross-border raid to clear a so-called safe-zone of Kurdish fighters, who Ankara considers "terrorists".

Turkey maintains the area is not safe enough to allow some of the more than three million Syrian refugees in Turkey to return to their country.

"Nobody seems inclined to help us," Erdogan told international leaders gathered for a Global Refugee Forum in Geneva.

"When we haven't received the support we needed from the international community, we had to take care of our own self," he said of Turkey's operations into northern Syria since 2016.

In particular, he said the lack of aid made necessary Ankara's latest military incursion into the war-ravaged country in October.

"We want this area to remain safe. Let us clear this land of terrorist presence once and for all … (and) let the refugees go back to their motherland peacefully and in an dignified fashion," Erdogan said.

"The Syrian refugees should go back on a voluntary basis," he said.

Speaking at the opening of the Global Refugee Forum, aimed at drumming up pledges for more efficient support for refugees and host communities, Erdogan boasted Turkey's credentials as the world's biggest refugee host.

He stressed that his country was currently hosting some five million refugees, including around 3.7 million Syrians, and had spent around $4 billion to accommodate them.

At the same time, he lamented, wealthy nations had set quotas to accept only "tiny numbers" of the millions fleeing their homes and had largely failed to honour their pledges of financial support to Turkey.

"When we ask for assistance, we don't receive it," he said.

Erdogan has previously warned that Turkey might allow millions of Syrian refugees to go to Europe if the international community does not do more.

On Tuesday, he slammed European countries in particular for using "shameful methods" like erecting barbed wire fences to keep desperate refugees off their land.

It is time, he said, for all countries to realise that the global migration and refugee crisis is everyone's problem to solve together.

"Our fates are sealed and our destinies are common," he said.

According to UN figures, there were nearly 71 million people living in forced displacement due to war, violence and persecution at the end of 2018, including nearly 26 million people who had fled across borders as refugees.

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