Opposition leader claims Erdoğan made deal with Biden to accept Afghan refugees into Turkey

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Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has claimed that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan brokered a deal with US President Joe Biden during their first meeting in June to allow into Turkey 1 million Afghans who are fleeing their country due to a US decision to withdraw its troops.

Kılıçdaroğlu made the claim in a series of tweets on Tuesday.

Following the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, an influx of refugees has reached Turkey’s borders through Iran due to fear of the Taliban, which is now the dominant force in the war-stricken country, further raising concerns about the increasing number of refugees in the country.

Erdoğan and Biden met on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels in June. Kılıçdaroğlu claimed that Erdoğan invited a young translator to the meeting — the daughter of Turkey’s ambassador to Malaysia and Turkey’s first headscarved lawmaker Merve Kavakçı — instead of an official translator to keep the deal secret.

At the time Erdoğan, who is frequently accused of filling state posts with cronies, attracted widespread criticism when he had Fatma Abushanab as his translator during his meeting with Biden. Many said the records of the meeting were not kept. Erdoğan denied the claims, saying the criticism about his translator stemmed from the fact that she wears a headscarf.

“I am calling on the US: As a member of the alliance that will govern Turkey in the future, we do not accept the deals you made with Erdoğan. Whatever you have said or relayed to Erdoğan are binding only for him, not for the Republic of Turkey,” Kılıçdaroğlu tweeted.

Following Kılıçdaroğlu’s statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry, which has so far remained silent about a US decision on Monday to take in thousands more Afghans whose US links put them at risk from the Taliban via third countries including Turkey, made a statement criticizing the US for taking such a step without consulting Turkey.

The US State Department said the expanded eligibility will include Afghans who worked with US-based media organizations or nongovernmental organizations or on projects backed by US funding. However, the US said it had no immediate plans to fly out the eligible Afghans. Instead, they will need to find their own way out of Afghanistan and support themselves during the lengthy process.

A US official said potential applicants had moved on from Iran to Turkey, already the temporary home to millions of refugees from Syria, according to a Guardian report.

Turkish foreign ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç said in a written statement late on Tuesday that Turkey does not accept the US decision to allow Afghans into the US via Turkey and that if the US  has such an intention, it should take those people through direct flights from Afghanistan.

“Our country, which has been hosting the largest number of refugees over the past seven years, does not have the capacity to confront a new refugee crisis on behalf of a third country,” said Bilgiç.

According to UNHCR Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide. The country is currently home to some 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees along with close to 320,000 persons of concern from other nationalities.

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