As Russian and Syrian jets have dramatically stepped up their bombardment of jihadist-held Idlib over the past three weeks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has again warned a massive wave of refugees is headed into Turkey, but that his country is without help and thus is seeking to prevent the new influx.
“Right now, 200,000 to 250,000 migrants are moving toward our borders,” Erdogan said while addressing a conference in Ankara. “We are trying to prevent them with some measures, but it’s not easy. It’s difficult, they are humans too.”
This after the UN on Monday said that of Idlib province's some 3 million civilian population, up to 284,000 are currently on the move.
International reports commonly put the current numbers of Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey at about 3.7 million, which Erdogan has of late constantly reminded Europe of as he seeks support for foreign military intervention in places like northeast Syria and now even Libya.
During his latest comments, Erdogan actually put the number of refugees across all provinces of Turkey at a whopping 5 million — which would be larger than many small countries.
Crucially, during his speech on Thursday, he alluded to his prior threats to "open the gates" and allow refugees to flood into Europe, starting with Greece and other Mediterranean nations:
“Although they [the West] have more resources than we do, why don’t they accept them, why don’t they open the gates?” Erdogan asked.
While also slamming Arab League member states for not acting, he answered his own question with, “We are Turkey. Alone this gives us a power and superiority that nobody has.”
In late December, Erdogan reiterated prior provocative threats underscoring that "Turkey cannot handle a fresh wave of migrants from Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, warning that European countries will feel the impact of such an influx if violence in Syria’s northwest is not stopped," as Reuters summarized of the statement.
Ankara is currently seeking to persuade Moscow to halt its offensive on Idlib and to get its ally Assad to halt its military actions, which also includes a ground advance in the south of the province.
Russia's Putin is expected to arrive in Isanbul on Jan.8 for a ceremony inaugurating a natural gas pipeline, but the two are also expected to address the contentious issues of Syria developments as well as the growing proxy war in Libya due to Gen. Haftar's offensive on the capital.
On Thursday, Turkish parliament authorized sending troops to Libya to assist Tripoli in halting Haftar's advance, while Russia has stood on the other side, voicing support of the Benghazi-based leader.