Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is threatening to “open the gates” to millions of refugees to enter Europe as criticism grows over Turkey’s ongoing military operation against a Syrian Kurdish militia.
Erdongan has a pretty clear message for the EU
“Hey, European Union! Pull yourself together,” Erdogan said at a meeting of party supporters Thursday. “I repeat it: If you try to describe our operation as an invasion, we will do what’s easy for us: we will open the doors and send 3.6 million refugees to you,” he added, to rapturous applause.
Erdogan’s threat comes as the European Union and individual leaders in Europe are voicing criticism and calls for an end to Turkey’s major military offensive against the YPG Kurdish militia.
Ankara launched the offensive Wednesday against the YPG, which it designates as a terrorist organization linked to Kurdish insurgents inside Turkey. The second day of fighting saw an intensification of airstrikes and artillery barrages against the militia.
Tens of thousands of people are reported to have already fled the fighting, with growing numbers of civilian casualties.
“Turkey is putting millions of people at humanitarian risk,”French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday at a news conference.
Erdogan’s message was blunt for the EU
Analysts suggest what provoked Erdogan’s migrant threat to Europe, however, were comments by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. On Wednesday, he called the Turkish operation a “catastrophe” and sent a blunt message to the Turkish president.
“If the plan [in Syria] involves the creation of a so-called ‘safe zone,’ don’t expect the EU to pay for any of it,” Juncker said.
That threat, some analysts say, will start alarm bells ringing in Ankara.
Turkey’s military operation is seeking to create what Erdogan has called a “safe zone” 30 kilometers deep into Syria.
Some analysts question the power of Erdogan’s refugee card over Europe, though, given that since 2016, migration routes from Greece to western Europe are now closed.
“I can see Greece being sunk by any new exodus. But I don’t see any refugees going to anywhere else from Greece. Therefore, this can turn out to be a bluff by Erdogan, something that will devastate Greece but not anybody else.”said Soli Ozel, international relations lecturer at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.
The recent increase in migrants entering Greece from Turkey and threats by Erdogan to end the migrant deal prompted a flurry of European diplomats and ministers rushing to Ankara seeking to assuage Turkish government concerns.
“The primary concern of all European countries – from Spain to Portugal to Italy – they are all afraid of another wave of migrants to Europe. The European chemistry is completely destroyed over migration,”Bagci said.
Analysts claim Ankara likely will be banking on such European migration fears in its efforts to get the EU to pay for its Syrian initiative.