Erdoğan”We do not have the word ‘idiot’ written on our foreheads”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday threatened to send the millions of refugees in Turkey to European Union (EU) member states, as NATO agreed to deploy ships to the Aegean Sea to ease the migrant crisis.
In a speech in Ankara, Erdogan stepped up his denunciations of Western policy in the refugee crisis, confirming he had threatened EU leaders at a summit meeting in November that Turkey could say “goodbye” to the refugees.
But in a separate move, NATO agreed to send a naval group “without delay” to the Aegean to crack down on the people smugglers who have helped hundreds of thousands of migrants cross to EU territory in the last year.
Alarm is growing in EU capitals that thousands of migrants are still crossing the Aegean daily from Turkey after over a million made the perilous journey last year.
But Turkey, already home to some three million refugees, is also under EU and UN pressure to take in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing regime advances in the Aleppo region.
Erdoğan sought to turn the tables on the EU by saying Turkey had every right to turf the refugees out of the country if it so wished.
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,” Erdoğan said.
Erdogan 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 neighbor.
Russian war planes have been bombing around the Syrian city of 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,” Erdogan said in a speech to a business forum in Ankara.
“We will show patience up to a point and then we’ll do what’s necessary. Our buses and planes are not waiting there in vain,” 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.
Erdogan 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.
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.
“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,” he said on Thursday.
A Greek news website said on Monday that Erdogan, in a meeting in November with Juncker and Tusk, had threatened to flood Europe with migrants if EU leaders did not offer a better deal to help Turkey manage the refugee crisis.