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Turkey Warns of Opening Floodgates of Syrian Migration to Europe

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he meets with Russian President Putin in 2015. (Photo by Kremlin.Ru)
President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he meets with Russian President Putin in 2015. (Photo by Kremlin.Ru)

“We may have to let them [the refugees] cross into Europe to get support.”

During a speech in Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country will work on removing at least one million refugees to a safe zone along the Syrian-Turkish border that his government will establish soon.

“Our goal is for at least one million of our Syrian brothers to return to the safe zone we will form along our 450km [280-mile] border. Give us logistical support and we can go and build housing at 30km depth in northern Syria,” Erdogan said. “Either this happens, or we will be forced to open the gates.”

Erdogan also warned Europe of a new migrant wave unless the Syrian refugees are repatriated. Over the past several years more than 3.6 million Syrians have fled their country and moved to Turkey due to the Syrian war.

Controversial Safe Zone Plan

In the past few months, Turkey and the United States have agreed on erecting a safe zone along the Syrian-Turkish border. Syria has opposed the plan and has repeatedly called on Turkey to withdraw forces from northern Syrian territories.

The Turkish president said that foundations for the safe zone would be laid by the last week of September and that Turkey would continue to attempt to reach a compromise with the U.S. over establishing the safe zone.

Syrian Kurdish forces in the area, which are opposed to the Turkish government, are concerned that Turkey will move many Syrians, who are not originally from the area, into the northeast. Turkey views the Kurdish opposition forces, represented by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), as a terrorist group. The Kurds want their own country and does not want to make space for the Turkish forces in the area.

Adding to the controversy, the United States, which backs the planned safe zone, also supports the YPG and Kurdish forces as allies in the war against Islamic State fighters.

Furthermore, Turkish authorities have been concerned that current heavy fighting in the northern Syrian province of Idlib would force more Syrian refugees into Turkish territories.

Due to the continued fierce crackdown by Syrian government troops, backed by Russian aircraft, on rebel groups and so-called Jihadist fighters in the northern region of Idlib, thousands of Syrian civilians have recently fled their homes.

Turkey’s Warns of Opening Migration Floodgates 

In an effort to curb the flow of migrants and refugees to Turkey and based on a 2016 agreement with Europe, the Turkish government has imposed stricter restrictions on migration. As part of the same agreement, the European Union (E.U.) pledged to grant Turkey a sum of 6 billion Euros ($5.4 billion U.S. dollars) to help Turkey shelter Syrian refugees.

However, the Turkish president has claimed his government has received only 3 billion Euros. The spokesperson of the E.U. mission, Natasha Betaud, said that so far, Ankara has received 5 billion Euros.

Erdogan has become increasingly frustrated over the perceived lack of support and follow-thru from Europe on its financial and logistical promises to aid Turkey with the Syrian refugees. Hence, Erdogan issued the warning that he would open the flood gates of immigration to Europe if the planned safe zone did not move forward.

“We may have to let them [the refugees] cross into Europe to get support,” President Erdoğan said Thursday at a meeting in Ankara.

“We haven’t been able to receive the support from the world, particularly the E.U., when it comes to sharing the burden of the refugees that we host. To receive [support], we might have to do this [opening the gates],” he added.

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Rami Almeghari

Rami Almeghari is a freelance independent writer, journalist and lecturer, based in the Gaza Strip. Rami has contributed in English to several media outlets worldwide, including print, radio and TV. He can be reached on facebook as Rami Munir Almeghari and on email as [email protected]

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