Turkey has upped the ante in both Idlib — where its military is busy attacking Syrian government forces in a state of open war — and its stance toward Europe, after late last week making good on threats to 'open the gates' for refugees fleeing Syria's war-torn northwest. But European leaders are standing by Greece and Bulgaria, saying the EU's borders are shut.
Already over 35,000 refugees are reportedly at EU borders under watch of Turkish security which had been ordered last Friday to "stand down" while thousands try to force their way into Greece and Bulgaria, and make the dangerous drip in rubber boats across the Aegean. As we've detailed there's a sense of chaos and panic at the borders, with Greece's military response aggressively trying to keep migrants out.
“Millions of refugees” will soon be moving toward Turkey’s borders with the EU, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in new provocative televised statements on Monday.
“Hundreds of thousands have crossed, soon we will reach millions,” Erdogan said in the speech; however, the UN has thus far counted around 13,000 to have entered Europe since the first wave began last Friday.
“The period of Turkey’s unilateral self-sacrifice in relation to the refugees has come to an end,” Erdogan said, speaking in Ankara. “Since we have opened the borders, the number of refugees heading toward Europe has reached hundreds of thousands.”
He's repeatedly urged NATO, the EU, and Washington to back Turkey's military intervention against the ongoing Syrian-Russian offensive in Idlib. He's also charged Europe with ignoring pleas for assistance in dealing with over 3 million Syrian refugees said to be on Turkish territory.
Erdogan also warned Syria in the Monday speech that it must withdraw from Idlib “to the lines Turkey has determined as soon as possible,” or be left without “a head on their shoulders.”
NEW: The Turkish authorities have sent us this video which they claim was filmed at 0726 this morning off Bodrum. It shows Greek coastguard carrying out ‘pushbacks’ of migrant dinghies. Shots are also fired into the water. More @SkyNews pic.twitter.com/GrlXGNIRTt— Mark Stone (@Stone_SkyNews) March 2, 2020
According to Deutsche Welle's account of the speech, he said further:
Erdogan called on Europe to help take responsibility.
"After we opened the doors, there were multiple calls saying 'close the doors,'" he said. "I told them 'it's done. It's finished. The doors are now open. Now, you [Europe] will have to take your share of the burden."
Germany's Merkel and France's Macron have been swift to reject Erdogan's move to essentially weaponize Syrian refugees. Macron previously expressed “full solidarity” with Greece and Bulgaria as they deal with the new influx.
This is one of the many horrible consequences of the war on #Syria for which the West, the GCC and Turkey should be held responsible . They're the ones who funded the jihadist & salafist factions which, posing as freedom fighters, dragged Syria to where it finds itself today. https://t.co/CqNuDYj1XU— Walid (@walid970721) March 2, 2020
Merkel's words were strongest. On Monday the German Chancellor slammed Erdogan's actions as "wholly unacceptable".
She also notably charged Ankara with actively facilitating transport of thousands to Turkey's borders with the EU:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's decision to bus thousands of migrants from refugee camps to Turkey's border with Greece was the wrong approach, even if Ankara "currently does not feel sufficiently supported" by Europe.
"But despite all the willingness to negotiate on providing yet more support [for Turkey], it is wholly unacceptable to then take this out on refugees," Merkel said of Erdogan's decision. She said he was leading desperate people into a "cul-de-sac," with Greece already making it clear it does not intend to grant them entry.
Europe of course fears a repeat of 2015, which saw over a million people pour into Europe.
Turkish President #Erdogan has effectively scrapped the refugee accord with the EU, threatening that millions will come. Refugees are appealing to #Merkel for help, but Berlin remains firm that the EU's borders are closed. https://t.co/QzTn2mFc6w— Ines Pohl (@inespohl) March 2, 2020
As we underscored before, this comes at the worst time imaginable, considering the worldwide threat of the Coronavirus pandemic, and given international health officials' response, based precisely on keeping borders closed and/or tightly monitored.
Crucially it also remains that a number of EU countries, especially Italy and Germany, are now desperately attempting to bring their own infection cases under control. A new migrant crisis is the very last thing they want to deal with considering not only the dire threat to public health, but the global economy as well.