EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell thanked Turkey on Tuesday for hosting Syrian refugees.

“The role of Turkey in helping the refugees is very positive,” the bloc’s high representative for foreign affairs told reporters at a press event of the fourth Brussels Conference on supporting the future of Syria and the region.

The event was taking place in video format because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Syrian “regime needs to understand that it has to genuinely engage in political negotiations,” Borrell said, reiterating that the EU can only accept the “UN-led intra-Syrian negotiations in Geneva, not military operations.”

The regime needs to “stop the repression of its people, then we can talk at normalization,” he said. 

Borrell also thanked Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq for hosting millions of Syrian refugees.

Speaking about Turkey, the EU top diplomat said the country had been carrying a “big burden” by taking care of more than 3.5 million people in its territory for several years.

He added that the EU appreciated these efforts which is why the bloc had approved last week an additional €485 million ($545 million) for monthly cash transfer and schooling programs in 2020. 

Host countries need support

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, the refugees and host countries need further support from the international community in order to carry on with the existing aid programs, warning that without further aid all the achievements in schooling or employment programs might go in vain.

Earlier, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu urged the international community, the UN and the EU for “concrete progress in the constitutional exercise” in his speech at the teleconference.

He also recalled Turkey’s counterterrorism operations had paved the way for more than 400,000 Syrians to voluntarily and safely return to northern Syria.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

Hundreds of thousands of people have since been killed and more than 10 million others displaced, according to the UN.

Turkey is the largest host country for Syrian refugees and provides international protection to 4 million people who fled the neighboring country. 

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