Expected help from European countries has failed to materialise despite Turkey’s vast contributions to EU security, including stemming a wave of migration, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.
"We have made invaluable contributions to the security of the entire European continent, particularly to the Balkan countries," Erdogan said. "However, we did not see the support and humanitarian attitude that we expect from our European friends during this difficult time," he added.
Erdogan made the remarks at the South East European Countries Cooperation Process (SEECP) Summit in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, where stability and security and cooperation among the Balkans were discussed.
He said the region faces a wave of migration from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and North Africa.
"Even as European countries can’t reach agreement on refugee quotas, Turkey hosts more than 4 million refugees, including 3.6 million Syrians," Erdogan said.
He added Turkey has spent over $37 billion for the Syrians alone.
Syria has been locked in a devastating conflict since early 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected brutality.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced, according to UN figures.
By helping prevent migration via the Aegean Sea, which often ends with drownings, Erdogan said Turkey prevented a humanitarian tragedy in the region.
Turkey-EU 2016 deal
"The number of irregular migrants that were caught in our country during 2005-2017 exceeded over 1 million," he added.
Turkey has been the main route for refugees and migrants trying to cross into Europe, especially since 2011, the start of the Syrian civil war.
Erdogan accused the EU of failing to fulfil its obligations under a 2016 deal aiming to discourage refugees and asylum seekers from entering Europe via the Aegean Sea.
The deal included a $6.8 billion (€6 billion) aid package to help Turkey care for millions of refugees in the country.
However, Turkey has so far received only a part of the committed amount.
On regional cooperation, Erdogan said that the SEECP was not only important for participating countries but also for peace, stability and prosperity of the entire European continent.
"At the same time, this process contributed critically to the integration process of the Western Balkan countries to Euro-Atlantic institutions. Turkey has always provided and will continue to provide support for the integration of Balkan countries with Euro-Atlantic institutions," he said.
Erdogan stressed that the EU's decision about North Macedonia's and Albania's membership negotiations would directly reflect on the future of the entire region.
"Lately, I see that EU's enlargement policy has been blocked by short-sighted populist circles; negative dividing lines and disparities that spread across this continent have recently been not only a threat to the inner peace of Europe, but also a danger for the future that the region hopes for many," he said.
"I believe European leaders will act in a visionary way and will support the idea of Balkan integration into the European Union."
Erdogan said during Turkey's chairmanship term of SEECP between 2020-2021, it would focus on such issues as migration, human resources, transit and communication routes across the region.
He pointed out the need to establish a permanent secretariat of the SEECP in Sofia or Istanbul.