Erdogan threatens to flood Europe with more than three million refugees if EU calls Syria operation an invasion
Turkey’s president threatened to send millions of Syrian refugees to Europe if the European Union labelled its military operation in Syria an “invasion”.
“We will open the gates and send 3.6 million refugees your way,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech to lawmakers from his AK Party.
The Turkish leader was enraged by a statement released the day before by the European Union which called on “Turkey to cease the unilateral military action” against Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria.
The EU also slammed Ankara’s plan to build a so-called “safe zone” in territory it planned to seize in the offensive, saying forcibly relocating Syrian refugees there would not “satisfy international criteria for refugee return as laid down by UNHCR”.
“Any attempt at demographic change would be unacceptable,” the blistering statement added. ”The EU will not provide stabilisation or development assistance in areas where the rights of local populations are ignored.”
The EU’s comments joined a chorus of condemnation of Turkey’s offensive which was launched against the SDF on Wednesday and has already seen at least eight civilians, including two children, killed.
Several regional powerhouses, including Egypt, The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, also expressed their alarm. An emergency Arab League session was called on Saturday to discuss the operation, while the UN security council is due to meet on Thursday.
Mr Erdogan defended his country’s operation maintaining it would support Syria’s territorial integrity by confronting Kurdish control of the country’s northeast.
“They are not honest, they just make up words,” Mr Erdogan said of Turkey’s critics, singling out Saudi Arabia and Egypt. “We, however, create action and that is our difference.”
In the same speech, he claimed that “109 terrorists have been killed so far” referring to the Kurdish-led forces.
The SDF, a mostly Kurdish militia with an Arab contingent, has been a key ally of the US in the fight against the so-called Islamic State (Isis).
The group, which received arms and significant air and ground support from the US, lost some 11,000 fighters in the years-long war before recapturing the last piece of Isis territory in March.
But that partnership has angered Ankara, which considers it a terrorist organisation for its link to Kurdish separatists in Turkey.
NATO-ally Turkey has threatened a cross-border offensive for years but appears to have pressed ahead with the offensive, when US President Donald Trump unexpectedly gave Ankara the green light to launch an offensive against them.
Mr Trump ordered the withdrawal of US forces from the border area, and said the US would not prevent a Turkish attack against its Kurdish allies.
Rami Abdurrahman, from monitoring group The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told The Independent that eight civilians have been killed including two children since the fighting erupted.
He said that 19 members of the SDF and its allies had been killed, and 40 others wounded.
“Erdogan’s number of 109 dead is hugely inflated. This is 10 times the real number,” he added.
Turkey has said it also intends to create a “safe zone” for the return of millions of refugees to Syria. But world leaders and aid agencies fear that a military incursion in northern Syria, which is home to over 700,000 people who rely on aid, would cause a “humanitarian catastrophe”.
Many also say that Turkey’s offensive runs the risk of Isis prisoners escaping from camps amid the chaos.