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19th Jan 2020

Erdogan to EU: 'We're not idiots', threatens to send refugees

  • Erdogan (l) and Juncker: Negotiations are not all smiles behind closed doors (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out against the EU on Thursday (11 February) and threatened to send millions of refugees in Turkey to the bloc’s member states, just as NATO agreed to deploy ships in the Aegean Sea to ease the migrant crisis.

In a speech in Ankara Erdogan confirmed an earlier leaked report in which he made clear to EU leaders late last year that he could open the gates for the estimated 2.7 million refugees to enter Europe.

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“We do not have the word 'idiot' written on our foreheads. We will be patient, but we will do what we have to. Don't think that the planes and the buses are there for nothing,” Erdogan said in a speech, signalling Turkey was running out of patience.

Earlier this week, the Greek website euro2day.gr reported that Erdogan told EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at the G20 summit in Antalya: “We can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria any time and put the refugees on buses.”

Erdogan confirmed the report, saying he was proud he made those comments.

“I am proud of what I said. We have defended the rights of Turkey and the refugees. And we told them [the Europeans]: 'Sorry, we will open the doors and say "goodbye" to the migrants'," AFP quoted Erdogan as saying.

Under the EU-Turkey deal last November, Ankara pledged to slow the influx of migrants, crack down on people smugglers in exchange for €3 billion aid for refugees stuck in Turkey, a faster visa liberalisation process and opening chapters in its EU membership negotiations.

The EU Commission in a report released on Wednesday, while acknowledging that some progress had been made, urged Turkey to do more to stop the flow of migrants, patrol its sea and clamp down on smugglers.

On the other hand, Turkey is also under pressure from Europe and the UN to open up its borders to the tens of thousands stranded at the Turkish-Syrian border after fleeing the Russian-backed push by the Syrian regime into the city of Aleppo.

“It is hypocritical to remind Turkey of its international responsibilities,” Erdogan said, rebuffing criticism.

“There is a chance the new wave of refugees will reach 600,000 if air strikes continue,” he warned.

‘Shame on you!’

The Turkish president also lashed out against the UN for not doing more to protect refugees.

“Shame on you! Shame on you!” said Erdogan, adding that the UN should be telling countries to take in refugees from Turkey.

Turkey has spent more than €8 billion on refugees since the civil war started in Syria five years ago.

Erdogan’s fiery comments came as Nato decided to deploy ships immediately to the Aegean sea, under German command, to help with surveillance and patrolling Turkey's shores.

By 7 February, 70,365 migrants arrived by sea in Greece from Turkey, on average 2,000 per day, while 319 died on the way, according to data from the International Organization for Migration.

Russian ceasefire

Russia has proposed a 1 March ceasefire in Syria, as officials from more than a dozen countries meet in Munich to try to put an end to the raging civil war. The conflict has already claimed the lives of over 470,000 Syrians, according to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research, a non-governmental organisation.

But US officials, arguing for an immediate stop to the fighting, believe that Moscow is only trying to buy time to allow its ally in Syria, president Bashar Al-Assad, to gain more control and crush rebel groups, AP reported. Such a move would help the Islamist group ISIS, they argue.

US secretary of state, John Kerry, is due to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Munich on Thursday.

Peace talks are supposed to resume by 25 February.

Germany, Turkey want Nato help to police coast

Germany and Turkey want to stop people-smugglers in the Aegean Sea, as tens of thousands of new Syria refugees mass on Turkey's borders amid Assad's siege of Aleppo.

Merkel authorises probe into Erdogan satire

Decision to authorise proceedings against Turkey-bashing comic split Merkel's coalition, prompted accusations of "kowtowing" to Turkish "despot" Erdogan.

Analysis

How the EU helped erode Turkish democracy

By neglecting Turkey for years and by failing to find its own solution on refugees the EU lost leverage on Turkey and finds itself played "like a yoyo" by its hardman leader.

Erdogan wants visa-free travel by October

With the July deadline for visa-free travel increasingly unlikely to be met, Turkey's president now says he wants visa-free access by October instead.

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