ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the EU on Thursday that Ankara would allow millions of refugees to head to Europe if the bloc criticised Turkey’s military offensive in Syria.
“Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: if you try to frame our operation there as an invasion, our task is simple: we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you,” Erdogan said in a speech to parliament.
Turkey launched an operation into Syrian territory on Wednesday, aimed at combating Kurdish militants tied to insurgents in its own territory.
Erdogan said 109 “terrorists” had been killed so far in the operation.
“We have a message to those who were forced to join the YPG (Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units) ranks: If you leave now … our arms are wide open,” he said.
Turkey currently hosts 3.6 million refugees from the eight-year conflict in Syria – the highest number in the world.
Under a 2016 agreement with the EU, Turkey agreed to prevent refugees from leaving towards Europe in exchange for €6 billion and visa-free travel for its own citizens.
But it has frequently criticised Brussels for being slow in providing the money and not doing more to help with the broader refugee problem.
“You have never been sincere,” Erdogan said, addressing the EU.
“Now they say they will withhold €3 billion from us. Have you ever kept any promise you gave us so far? No.”
One of Ankara’s aims for the military operation is to establish a “safe zone” in which at least one million Syrian refugees can be repatriated, after the long-term presence of refugees became an increasingly political liability.