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ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey, which hosts the world's largest refugee population, has so far spent $7.6 billion caring for 2.2 million Syrians who have fled strife there, the deputy prime minister said on Friday.
Turkey, which shares a 900 km (566 miles) border with Syria, has been on the front lines of the biggest refugee crisis since World War Two, and has been widely praised for its open-door policy to those fleeing the bloodshed.
Initially expecting only tens of thousands of people to cross the border, Ankara has since the start of the conflict constructed well-equipped refugee camps in the world, and has latterly given refugees access to healthcare and education.
But experts say only around 300,000 refugees are currently in camps, while the vast majority of them eke out a precarious existence in Turkish towns and cities.
A lack of work opportunities for refugees and the prospect of a better life in the EU have also seen Turkey become a key jumping-off point for many trying to illicitly reach Europe. The International Organisation for Migration says 473,887 Syrians and other migrants have crossed the Mediterranean this year.
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus did not specify the period covered by his cost figures, but they suggest that Turkey has spent 0.9 percent of its annual economic output responding to the crisis and that nearly 3 percent of its population is now made up of Syrian refugees.
There are growing fears that the country is reaching breaking point, while many have died trying to go from Turkey to Europe.
"Our Coast Guard units have rescued 53,228 people, while 274 people have died (in Turkish waters)", Kurtulmus said at a news conference.
Pictures of a drowned toddler washed up on a Turkish beach earlier this month sparked a global outpouring of sympathy and stirred fierce debate in Europe on how to handle the crisis.
The grim images have failed to stem the tide, with a further 22 people drowning this week.
Reporting by Ercan Gurses; Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley and Jonny Hogg,; Editing by Jonny Hogg and Hugh Lawson