- Turkish threats to send millions of Syrian refugees to Europe’s doorstep if it is sanctioned or condemned for its military intervention in northeast Syria are credible, European and Turkish security officials told Business Insider Friday.
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to flood Europe with Syrian refugees if EU governments are too strong in their condemnation of the Turkish military action in the country launched this week.
- An official with the Greek government told Business Insider that Erdogan is not bluffing, and that Turkey could “send about 500,000 refugees immediately.”
- European governments fear a repeat of the 2015 migrant crisis, when over a million migrants pushed into Europe from the Middle East.
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Turkish threats to send millions of Syrian refugees to Europe’s doorstep if sanctioned or condemned for its military intervention in northeast Syria are credible, European and Turkish security officials told Business Insider Friday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to unload many of the estimated 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey after European capitals responded with concern over this week’s decision to send the Turkish military into Syria to push a Kurdish seperatist group off the border.
He argued his plan to open a yet undefined security zone along the border to house hundreds of thousands of refugees was necessary, even as the international community expressed grave concern that this amounts to ethnic cleansing.
In a speech before his AKP party on Thursday, Erdogan warned that any condemnation from Europe would result in his, “opening the gates and send 3.6 million refugees your way.”
Erdogan's threats may seem grandiose, but they are entirely credible, officials told Business Insider.
"He can do it," one Greek Interior Ministry official told Business Insider.
"The AKP and its political patronage network have the capability to not only allow Syrians and other refugees to leave for Greece and the EU by boat but they control the main levers so they can speed up any transfer," the official, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
"They can send about 500,000 refugees immediately while making millions of euros themselves charging refugees for the trip."
This sentiment was partially confirmed by a Turkish police official in the coastal city of Izmir, a key staging ground for refugees as they depart for Greece, and thus EU islands off the coast.
"10,000 in a day would be easy," the police official, who wished to remain anonymous as he has been involved in refugee smuggling in the past, said.
"The weather is getting bad but there are a million Syrians in Turkey who want to go to Europe. If the EU doesn't want us to settle them back in Syria, they can live in Europe."
"Europe cannot handle a repeat of 2015 and Erdogan knows it, our hands are tied in the face of these threats," the Greek official said, referencing the summer of 2015, when more than a million people made the trip from Turkey to Greece and onto other European countries.
Fears over the biggest mass migration in Europe since World War II deeply strained Europe's internal politics and consensus is that no government wants a repeat.
"Europe wants to tell us we can't fight terrorists in Syria, the US wants to partner with these terrorists against Turkey, Turkey will respond with resolve," said the Turkish police official.
"This isn't a real argument because Europe can't fight the refugees we can send at any time."
In a statement, the European members of the UN Security Council called for an immediate halt to the offensive which has seen heavy fighting in key border cities and reports that over 100 people had been killed.
"We are deeply concerned by the Turkish military operation," the UNSC's five European members - Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, and Poland said in the joint statement.
"Renewed armed hostilities in the northeast will further undermine the stability of the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering and provoke further displacements," the statement, delivered by Juergen Schulz, Germany's deputy ambassador to the UN, added.
But "deeply concerned" is not the same as ready to apply sanctions, as US lawmakers have threatened if the Turkish offensive goes beyond the establishment of a buffer zone. The US under President Donald Trump has more room to argue with the Turks than Europe.
"We need Trump to make a deal with Erdogan and use American power to keep him in line," said the Greek official.
"Europe might be angry at this invasion of Syria - my own government has called for a halt - but Europe is powerless in front of the refugee threat but the Americans are not."
"The thing is Donald Trump is president and we are clear he doesn't care what happens to the EU right now," he said.