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EU preparing ‘substantial’ aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey: Luxembourg minister

The European Union is preparing a “substantial” aid package for Turkey to help it meet the cost of hosting around two million Syrian refugees, the foreign minister of Luxembourg said Friday during a visit to Ankara.

Addressing a press conference with his Turkish counterpart Feridun Sinirlioglu, Jean Asselborn, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, said it was the EU’s “responsibility” to “financially support a country which is confronted with a problem, involving huge costs”.

“I am convinced .. a package will be defined this week to help Turkey,” he said, adding he expected the amount pledged to be “substantial”.

Turkey and Lebanon have borne the brunt of the refugee crisis caused by Syria’s four-year civil war, the effects of which are suddenly being felt in Europe as hundreds of thousands of refugees pour into the EU.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said Friday his country had spent $7.6 billion (6.6 billion euros) on aid for Syrian refugees since 2011.

“We really have to start sharing the load,” Asselborn said.

“It’s not that we want to buy Turkey off for blocking the route to those who want to come to Europe,” he said referring to Turkey’s efforts to prevent migrants crossing illegally into Greece and Bulgaria.

“It’s about providing support on the one hand, and, on the other hand, avoiding the anarchy we’re seeing at borders where asylum seekers are entering,” he added.

On Thursday, French President Francois Hollande called for the EU to “work with Turkey” so that “those who are in Turkey can stay there”.

Germany, which is battling to cope with an influx of refugees that Berlin says could reach one million this year, has also set its store by aiding the lot of refugees sheltering in Turkey.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier held talks Friday on the refugee crisis with his Turkish counterpart as well as with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Expressing “great respect” for Turkey’s open-door policy towards Syrians, Steinmeier said Ankara had a “major role” to play in finding a diplomatic resolution to the war in Syria and backed greater EU aid for Turkey’s refugee response.

Sinirlioglu reiterated Erdogan’s calls for the creation of a safe zone in northern Syria, to contain the refugee problem.

“If we can create a safe zone that will protect them from the barrel bombs thrown by the regime … we can keep them in their own country,” he argued.