Liz Truss’s trial plan to send unwanted asylum seekers to Turkey has been scrapped by Ankara’s government hours after it was announced.
The Times reported on Saturday morning that the foreign minister — who is in the running to become the next Conservative Prime Minister — would like to open negotiations on sending migrants to countries like Turkey.
This would follow the agreement made in the spring with Rwandawhich took £100 million from the British government in exchange for taking on deported refugees crossing the English Channel in small boats.
But later on Saturday, Turkey hit back at the proposal, warning that the country would not become a “refugee camp or border guard” for any other nation. Turkey, a nation of 85 million people, already has the world’s largest refugee population, including 3.7 million people who have fled the civil war in neighboring Syria.
“We hope that these claims regarding Ms. Truss in the press are unfounded,” Tanju Bilgic, the ministry’s official spokesman, said in a statement on Saturday.
“It is out of the question that our nation — the world’s largest number of refugees in the last eight years — should take on a greater burden at the request of a third country and, moreover, contribute to an approach that is incompatible with international rules on the right to asylum.”
He added: “Turkey will not become a refugee camp or a border guard for any other country, nor will it in any way assume the international obligations of a third country.”
Truss’ campaign team played down the idea that she had drawn up a formal plan to transport failed refugees to countries such as Turkey. However, they admitted she floated the idea with Christopher Chope, a Tory.
“Liz supports Rwanda’s policy and supports its expansion to other countries,” her spokesperson said.
More than 14,000 refugees have crossed the channel in small boats so far this year, underscoring political pressure on the government to address the issue. Despite the agreement with the Kigali government, no refugees have yet been sent to Rwanda, partly due to successful legal challenges.
All Conservative leadership candidates have vowed to maintain the controversial Rwanda policy, which has been widely criticized by charities, human rights groups and bishops.
Turkey struck a €6 billion deal with the EU in 2016 as Brussels sought to prevent a repeat of Europe’s 2015 migrant crisis. This led to a large drop in the number of people crossing the Aegean Sea to Greece.
But Turkey’s large refugee population has become a source of intense public anger as households struggle with inflation of nearly 80 percent and a falling value of the lira.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who faces a challenging re-election bid in a contest that must be held before June 2023, is under pressure to emulate the country’s main opposition parties in pledging to send refugees back to Syria.
Truss, who visited Ankara last month for meetings with senior Turkish officials, used the trip to describe Turkey as an “important partner for the UK”, citing energy, defense and security as key areas of cooperation.