Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an today (11 February) slammed EU and UN pressure to open Turkey’s borders to more refugees, threatening to send the millions already in the country to other states.
“We do not have the word ‘idiot’ written on our foreheads. Don’t think that the planes and the buses are there for nothing. We will do the necessary,” Erdo?an told a business forum in Ankara.
He also said he had previously told the European Union’s two top officials, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, that the time could come when Turkey would open the gates for migrants to travel to Europe.
The statements confirm that the transcript of a conversation during the G20 meeting in Antalya last November, in which Erdo?an was quoted as threatening Europe with migrants, is true.
The Turkish president said his country’s patience may run out over the crisis in Syria, and that the United Nations should do more to prevent what he said was “ethnic cleansing” in the country.
Erdo?an accused the United Nations of insincerity in calling on Turkey to do more to help Syrian refugees instead of taking action to prevent the bloodshed in its southern neighbour. The EU has also pleaded so that Turkey opens its borders to thousands of refugees fleeing Aleppo.
“Shame on you! Shame on you!” said Erdo?an, adding that instead, the United Nations could pressure its members to take in more refugees.
“The United Nations should give advice to other countries. And then we can send the refugees to these countries,” he said.
Russian warplanes have been bombing Aleppo, in support of a Syrian government offensive to recapture the city, sending tens of thousands of people fleeing to the Turkish border.
“There is a chance the new wave of refugees will reach 600,000 if air strikes continue. We are making preparations for it,” Erdo?an told the audience in Ankara.
“We will show patience up to a point, and then we’ll do what’s necessary,” he said, adding that Turkey had information that Iran-backed forces in Syria were carrying out “merciless massacres”.
Turkey, already home to more than 2.6 million Syrian refugees, has long pushed for the creation of a safe zone in northern Syria to protect displaced civilians without bringing them over the border into Turkey.
The proposal has so far gained little traction with Washington or NATO allies, who fear it would require an internationally patrolled no-fly zone which could put them in direct confrontation with Assad and his allies.
Erdo?an said the Syrian crisis could not be resolved without safe zones, and said that ways of keeping Syrians in their country needed to be sought.
“In the past we have stopped people at the gates to Europe, in Edirne we stopped their buses. This happens once or twice, and then we’ll open the gates and wish them a safe journey, that’s what I said,” Erdo?an said.
Last September, Turkey indeed stopped hundreds of migrants, mostly Syrians, on their way to Greece and Bulgaria, near Edirne, and took them by buses back to the interior of the country.
Erdo?an said Turkey had already spent some nine billion dollars on hosting the refugees since Syria’s almost half decade civil war began.
The European Union has agreed to give Turkey €3 billion in financial aid for the refugees but the funds have yet to be handed to Turkey, two-and-a-half months after they were agreed.
“The three billion euros is not in our budget, where has it gone?” asked Erdo?an. “It’s for refugees!”