November 6, 2015 / 3:43 PM / 2 years ago

Turkish aid agency encourages refugees to stay in Syria

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey is encouraging displaced civilians to remain in Syria and is supporting aid camps there but it does not intend to shut its borders to those fleeing the civil war, the head of Turkey’s disaster management agency said on Friday.

Turkey is under pressure from the European Union, which it aspires to join, to keep refugees on its soil and help stem the biggest migration crisis Europe has faced since World War Two. It has offered financial aid and accelerated membership talks.

But Ankara is already struggling to cope with 2.2 million Syrian refugees. Although it runs what are widely held to be some of the best-equipped refugee camps near the Syrian border, they have capacity for just 330,000 of that total.

“An open-border policy is the main policy we have been following since the beginning of this crisis ... but the entire world including Europe has to open its doors for the refugees, it’s not just for Turkey,” Fuat Oktay, director of Turkish disaster management agency AFAD, told Reuters.

The agency is supporting camps for displaced civilians on the Syrian side of the border and was not actively promoting the services available in Turkey in the hope of discouraging more refugees from crossing, he said.

“Any individual would like to stay in his or her country... (we) promote them to stay in their own country,” Oktay said, adding AFAD has provided aid in Syria throughout the conflict.

Turkey has long championed the creation of a “safe zone” in northern Syria to protect displaced civilians, an idea it has again tabled as the EU puts pressure on it to stem the flow of migrants, but the idea has gained little global support.

A new wave of refugees is feared in Turkey as government forces and Russian warplanes pound opposition-held areas in northern Syria. Officials have warned many will try illegally to get to Europe.

Turkey is looking for longer-term solutions including giving Syrians the right to work, plans which are unpopular with some Turks who fear competition for labor and which have been delayed by several elections over the past 18 months.

Those under temporary protection in Turkey are currently allowed to work within the refugee community, for example as doctors or teachers in camps.

“There has to be a balance so that the local community does not feel like the refugees are getting their jobs... so the two communities can live together in peace,” Oktay said.

Editing by Jeremy Gaunt

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