Ankara: Turkey’s president on Thursday threatened to “open the gates” and allow a flood of Syrian refugees to leave Turkey for Western countries unless a so-called “safe zone” is established inside Syria soon in negotiations with the Americans.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a speech to his ruling party officials, lamented what he described as Turkey being left to shoulder the burden of Syrian refugees alone.
“We will be forced to open the gates. We cannot be forced to handle the burden alone,” Erdogan said, reiterating Turkey’s annoyance that past proposals for the creation of the safe zone — envisioned as a place where refugees could be re-settled — has been ignored by Western nations.
“We did not receive the support needed from the world and especially from the European Union, concerning the burden-sharing,” he said.
Turkey opened its borders to Syrians in April 2011 and is currently home to 3.6 million who fled the civil war, now in its ninth year.
Hundreds of Syrian refugees have been detained and reportedly forcibly deported to Syria recently, according to accounts by refugees. The Turkish government categorically denies reports of forced deportations.
Turkey and the United States have been engaged in talks to establish a safe zone inside Syria east of the Euphrates River and even set up a joint operations center in Turkey’s border province of Sanliurfa to coordinate their efforts. They have also started joint helicopter patrols. The Greek government this week warned of a repeat of the 2015 migrant crisis after it saw a spike in arrivals. Authorities were forced to relocate some of the tens of thousands of refugees languishing in camps on the
Ankara wants U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters, Washington’s key allies in the fight against the Islamic State group, to pull back from the border area and out of the safe zone. Erdogan said last week that Turkish officials had “temporarily” agreed to a safe zone proposed by the U.S. that is narrower than 20 miles (32 kilometers).
Turkey considers the U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters terrorists, linked to a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.
In Brussels, European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud told reporters that both Turkey and the EU were committed to the deal.
“Turkey reached a deal with the European Union in March 2016 under which Turkey would stem the flow of migrants into Europe in return for funds to help support the refuge.We trust that we can continue this work in good faith with our Turkish partners,” she said.
She said the EU is “providing substantial support to improve the living conditions and protection standards of Syrian refugees in Turkey. To date, the EU has allocated 5.6 billion euros out of the 6 billion that was agreed, with the remaining balance due to be allocated shortly.”