Turkey’s prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned on Monday of Russian airstrikes setting off fresh waves of Syrian refugees as he met German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Speaking at a news conference in Ankara following a meeting at which the two leaders discussed cooperative measures to tackle the refugee crisis caused by the five-year Syrian war, Davutoglu said Russia and the Syrian government were waging war on civilians.
“While Syrian sides met in Geneva for peace, Russian jets have been conducting military operations causing civilian deaths along with the regime forces backed by foreign fighters, cutting off [the] Aleppo-Turkey corridor so as to block the flow of humanitarian aid,” he told reporters.
A renewed offensive by the government, Iranian and Hezbollah ground troops, backed by Russian air power, has seen tens of thousands of people stream towards the Turkish border in recent days.
The attack in northwest Syria has seen supply routes from Turkey to opposition-controlled areas cut, leaving towns and villages without vital aid.
"They are trying to take Aleppo under de facto siege, so we are at the doorstep of a new and great humanitarian tragedy. The inhumane assault on Aleppo must come to an end right away, it must be our mutual effort and goal," Davutoglu said.
The premier stated that the recent attacks in Syria indicate how insincere Russian and Syrian regime forces are acting, and how they are far from peace.
"Nobody can excuse, justify or tolerate the Russian airstrikes, ongoing so as to cause an open ethnic cleansing, by saying that 'Turkey anyhow accepts Syrian refugees', or expect Turkey to take all the burden of the refugee issue on its shoulders alone," he added.
Davutoglu revealed a 10-point action plan, agreed upon with Merkel, that will see renewed diplomatic pressure to urge the warring sides to comply with a UN resolution calling for an end to attacks on civilians.
“Turkey's relief agency, the Turkish Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, and its German counterpart, the Federal Agency for Technical Relief, will cooperate on humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees,” he said, referring to joint efforts to provide support for the Syrian refugees at the Turkish-Syrian border.
The prime minister said Germany and Turkey had taken in the most refugees from the Syrian crisis, with Ankara now hosting more than 2.5 million Syrians. Germany took in 1.1 million refugees last year, the most of any EU nation.
Davutoglu highlighted that Turkey stood ready to meet the needs of its Syrian brothers and take them in if necessary, as around 30,000 Syrian refugees have piled up at Turkey's southern borders.
Another measure to stem the flow of refugees would be joint operations targeting people smuggling networks and illegal border crossings as Turkey regards all kinds of human trafficking as an act of terror in line with last week's decree agreed by the Turkish cabinet.
He also maintained that they also agreed to work to enable the more efficient efforts by Frontex, the EU agency responsible for border management and security.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe needs to be ready for accepting the refugees legally in order to avoid the illegal migration.
"If we want to avoid illegal migration, we should be ready to accept these people legally," Merkel said and added, "We want to make a quota about it and there will be efforts in European Commission in upcoming days. We should define this joint mission."
Both leaders said they would call on NATO to assist.
“Turkey and Germany will put it forward as an agenda item and we will jointly work to enable effective use of NATO's monitor and tracking mechanisms on our borders and in the Aegean Sea,” Davutoglu said.
According to the International Institute of Migration, nearly 69,000 refugees have arrived in Greece from Turkey since the start of the year, with 284 deaths in the Aegean in that period.
Last week, the EU approved a 3-billion-euro ($3.33 billion) aid package for Turkey to help care for the world’s largest refugee population.
Turkey will put the money to work as soon as possible, Davutoglu said, with health and education facilities for young Syrians the top priority.
"We want to evaluate the first projects in Brussels," said German Chancellor Merkel.
Davutoglu added that the head of Turkey Migration Management will visit Greece on Thursday to discuss joint steps as part of the readmission agreement between the two Aegean neighbors to reduce the refugee fluxes into Europe via Turkish and Greek coasts.
They will also establish an effective joint mechanism with Germany to prevent inclusion of non-Syrians into Syrian refugee flows into Europe, and to distribute and relocate Syrian refugees between Turkey and EU countries.
Following the press conference, Merkel met President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the presidential palace.