Turkey on Wednesday said only Syrian refugees would be allowed to cross its border to fight jihadists for the mainly Kurdish Syrian town of Kobane, rejecting calls from the West to fully open the frontier.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters that “those coming from Syria can go back to join the fight” for Kobane, but that Turkish and other nationals would not be allowed to cross the border.
Kurdish fighters are seeking to hold back the advance by Islamic State jihadists to take Kobane, and Turkey is coming under increasing pressure to allow Kurdish reinforcements to cross the nearby border.
But Davutoglu said: “It’s not acceptable to claim that this crisis has happened just because Turkey is not opening its borders.”
“We don’t let Turkish citizens go into Syria because we don’t want them to be a part of the conflict in Syria. We are trying to stop those who are attempting to do so illegally,” he said.
“We don’t want any single (Turkish) citizen to be in the middle of the conflict in Syria,” he added.
Turkey has been wary of letting Turkish Kurds cross the border to join the fight for Kobane, fearing the creation of a potent Kurdish fighting force straddling the Turkish-Syrian borders.
The Turkish security forces have waged a 30-year conflict with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has links to the main Syrian Kurdish Party, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
Davutoglu said Syrian refugees however “haven’t asked for our permission to come here and they don’t need our permission to go back”. He added that those refugees did not want to return.
Davutoglu’s comments came after French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday said Turkey “must absolutely open its border” to allow reinforcements to reach Kobane.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura last week called on Turkey to allow volunteers and their equipment to be able to enter Kobane to contribute to its defence.
“It’s easy to talk from Paris. Do they know what’s happening on the ground?” snapped Davutoglu, pointing to how Turkey was hosting some 200,000 refugees from the Kobane region.
He said around 300 members of the PYD had laid down their arms when fleeing to Turkey “but did not go back although we said our borders are open.”
Davutoglu also categorically rejected allowing other foreign pro-Kurdish fighters across the Turkish border to fight in Kobane.
“Should we open our borders to those coming from France to fight in Kobane? How are we going to monitor our borders and foreign fighters if we open it to everyone?” he asked.