Turkish President threatens Europe with influx of Syrian refugees

What happened? Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned yesterday that Turkey would be forced to ‘open the gates’ to Syrian refugees if his country did not receive more help from the international community.

  • Erdogan appeared to propose a mass return of refugees back to Syria as part of a resettlement and reconstruction project. He said:  “We are saying we should form such a safe zone that we, as Turkey, can build towns here in lieu of the tent cities here. Let’s carry them to the safe zones there….Give us logistical support and we can go build housing at 30 km depth in northern Syria.”
  • But he concluded: “This either happens or otherwise we will have to open the gates. Either you will provide support, or excuse us, but we are not going to carry this weight alone. We have not been able to get help from the international community, namely the European Union.”

Context: Turkey currently hosts more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees. Erdogan claims Turkey has spent more than £32bn supporting them, and criticised the EU and the US for failing to live up to their promise to provide more assistance.

  • The EU – Turkey agreement, signed in 2016 promised Turkey £4.8bn in exchange for tighter controls on refugees leaving Turkish territory for Europe, but Erdogan claims only half the funds have been received.
  • Greece is particularly concerned after more than 12,000 refugees, presumed to be from Turkey, arrived on Greek islands in July and August.
  • Idlib, in Syria’s northwest corner, is the only substantial area still under rebel control. Following the failed August ceasefire, the Syrian army, backed by Russia have relaunched an offensive and gained ground against rebel forces, some of whom are backed by Turkey.
  • North Eastern Syria remains under the control of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), largely made up of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkey views the YPG as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organisation by the US, the EU and Turkey.

Looking ahead

  • Turkey is concerned there will be a fresh influx of refugees as the Syrian government closes in on Idlib. Erdogan will discuss the fighting in Idlib when he hosts Russian and Iranian leaders in Ankara on September 16th.
  • The 2016 EU –Turkish agreement expires at the end of this year and it remains unclear what will happen after that.​​​​​​​

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