Turkey threatens to open gateway for refugees to Europe if safe zone not implemented

A migrant boat off the coast of Malta (file photo)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that if the planned safe zone in Syria fails to realize, Turkey will open its borders and pave the way for asylum seekers who aim to cross to Europe.

“We’ll have to open the doors … We could not get the necessary support from the world, especially from the EU, in sharing the burden of the refugees we hosted. We might have to do this to get it,” Erdogan said at his party’s meeting.

He noted that so far, only 3 billion euros (3.32 billion U.S. dollars) were sent to Turkey over a 2016 deal in which the EU agreed to provide Turkey with a financial aid package of 6 billion euros (6.64 billion U.S. dollars) for the care of Syrian refugees.

“If the deal does not go on anymore, we will have to open our borders,” Erdogan said.

Turkey will start to implement its own plan to establish a safe zone in northern Syria in the east of the Euphrates River, by the end of September if the talks with the United States do not provide an outcome, the president added.

“Turkey is determined to actively initiate the formation of a safe zone in Syria along the eastern line of the Euphrates River in its own way by the last week of September,” Erdogan said.

On Aug. 7, Turkish and U.S. officials agreed to set up a safe zone and develop a “peace corridor” in northern Syria which would address Ankara’s security concerns about a Kurdish faction that controls the territory.

The safe zone would also facilitate the return of displaced Syrians currently living in Turkey to their home country.