Turkey does not have the capacity to deal with a possible new refugee wave from Afghanistan, the Turkish president told German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in a telephone call on Tuesday.
During the call, Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said Germany and other European Union nations should provide assistance to Afghanistan’s neighbors to help them as “they bear the burden of the Afghan migration,” according to a statement from the Turkish leader’s office.
Turkey, which already hosts the world’s largest refugee population, including 3.7 million Syrians, is concerned about a potential influx of refugees fleeing the Taliban. Anti-migrant sentiment has been running high in Turkey as it grapples with economic woes, including high unemployment, that have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“President Erdogan underlined that Turkey does not have the capacity to handle a new migration burden,” said a statement from the presidential communications office.
Erdogan added that “no one wants to relive an experience similar to the Syrian refugee wave of 2015,” when hundreds of thousands of people reached Greek islands by boats from the nearby Turkish coast, on their way to seek asylum in more prosperous EU countries.
In 2016, Turkey and the EU signed a deal for Ankara to stem the flow of migrants heading toward Europe, in return for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and substantial EU financial support.
Erdogan told the German president that the EU should “rapidly take steps” to ensure that the deal is implemented by re-starting Turkey’s stalled membership talks, updating the customs union with Ankara and granting visa-free travel to Turkish citizens, according to the statement.
There was no statement on the call from the office of the German president, whose duties are largely ceremonial.