Turkey warns Europe of new refugee crisis as Syrian forces attack Idlib

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By Alastair Jamieson  & AFP, AP
A family flees toward Turkey from Idlib as Syrian government forces shell the region
A family flees toward Turkey from Idlib as Syrian government forces shell the region   -  Copyright  AP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned Europe his country cannot handle a new wave of Syrian refugees fleeing increased bombardment in the nearby Idlib province.

Tens of thousands of Syrians have fled towards the Turkish border following heightened regime and Russian bombardment of the Maaret al-Numan region since December 16.

Idlib hosts some three million people, including many displaced by violence in other parts of Syria. It is also home to many al-Qaida-linked militants.

The Damascus regime has repeatedly vowed to take back control of the province, and the UN has warned of the growing risk of a resulting humanitarian catastrophe along the Syria-Turkey border.

"Turkey cannot handle a new refugee wave from Syria," Erdogan said on Sunday, adding that over 80,000 people from Idlib had fled to areas near the Turkish border.

If the flow increased, "Turkey will not carry this migration burden alone", he added.

Al Qaida-linked militants in Idlib try to stop people fleeing towards TurkeyAP

"The negative effects of this pressure on us will be an issue felt by all European countries, especially Greece," he warned.

Europe would once again experience the same scenes before the Turkey-European Union migration deal signed in 2016, Erdogan said.

As part of that agreement, the EU promised Ankara six billion euros ($6.6 billion) in exchange for stronger controls on refugees leaving its territory for Europe.

Erdogan has previously claimed that not all of that money arrived and has warned that Turkey could be forced to open the doors to Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe.

Turkish officials say Turkey is home to around five million refugees, among which 3.7 million are Syrians.