Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday urged European governments to provide greater support to Syrian refugees after the launch of Western airstrikes in the country.
Turkey has voiced support for the U.S.-led strikes against Islamic State jihadists in Syria but has said that the Western forces have not used its airspace.
On his first visit to the West since his inauguration as president last month, Erdogan highlighted the plight of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey and said that Ankara has spent more than $3.5 billion to support them.
“On the other hand, I ask you about the rich and strong European countries. They provide refuge to only 130,000 Syrian refugees so far,” Erdogan told the U.N. General Assembly, noting that Turkey in recent days has witnessed a new surge of Kurdish refugees from the neighboring country.
Erdogan was referring to numbers in Europe from the U.N. refugee agency, which only lists Syrians who have formally sought asylum. Migration is a highly sensitive issue in the European Union, which has tried to prevent a series of illegal and dangerous entries into the wealthy bloc by boat.
Erdogan has had uneasy relations with Western governments which have accused him of showing an authoritarian streak and have been alarmed by his strident denunciations of Israel.
At the U.N. General Assembly, Erdogan urged action to help the Palestinians, saying: “Speaking about a solution is not enough.” But he also emphasized his condemnation of anti-Semitism.
Erdogan in his remarks also criticized the West for its efforts to “legitimize” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led a military coup last year that ousted elected leader Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist close to Erdogan.
“If we are going to defend people who come to power through coups, then I ask the question why we exist as the United Nations,” he said.