BRUSSELS (AP) — Turkey's president sought European backing on Monday for the creation of buffer and no-fly zones on the Syrian border, saying that such moves are key to ending the refugee crisis.
Turkey is hosting around 2 million refugees from the conflict in Syria, which began in 2011 following protests against President Bashar Assad's government. Tens of thousands of others have entered the EU from Turkey this year, overwhelming border authorities and receptions centers.
"The root cause of the refugee crisis today is the war that has been taking place in Syria and the state-sponsored terror actions which have been carried out by Assad himself," Erdogan said.
He raised the issue of "a safe zone that would be protected from terrorism" and "a no-fly zone" in talks with senior European Union officials in Brussels, but the EU believes the United Nations is the best forum for discussing them.
European Council President Donald Tusk said Europe stands ready to help Ankara with financial assistance, border and security resources and the possibility of easing visa requirements for Turkish citizens.
But Tusk said that "Turkey needs to be equally ready to act. The situations where hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing to the EU via Turkey must be stopped."
The thousands fleeing conflict and poverty have been crossing from Turkey into Greece in the hope of finding better lives in Europe, but the EU believes that Ankara can do much more to stop them setting out.
The European Commission hopes to generate around 1 billion euros ($1.12 billion) in European funds to help lessen the impact of refugee arrivals on Turkey, which is a candidate for EU membership. A commission team was also due in Turkey later Monday to assess cooperation on the ground.
EU officials said earlier Monday that Erdogan's visit, which comes just weeks ahead of elections in Turkey on Nov. 1, was aimed at fine-tuning an action play to help Ankara cope between with the flow of refugees from Syria and Iraq.
In France on Sunday, he accused European nations of "confining refugees into the depth of the Mediterranean" in a reference to refugees who drown trying to reach Europe.
His speech at a rally in Strasbourg attended by hundreds of Turks was televised live in Turkey.
Critics accuse Erdogan of organizing rallies in Turkey and Europe to drum up votes for the ruling Justice and Development Party, in breach of laws that require him to be neutral.