At a moment Erdogan has his hands dirty in Syria and is preparing to get more militarily involved in Libya, Turkey’s president has yet again threatened Europe with a refugee horde so large no country will be able to handle it. He’s now specifically threatened Greece as being among the first to bear the brunt of the first waves of refugees unleashed by Turkey.
His threats are now centering on the major uptick in airstrikes by Russia and Syria on Idlib province, said to number in the “hundreds” since a new operation began on Dec.16. Since then, tens of thousands of civilians living under al-Qaeda’s Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) have reportedly fled.
“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,” Reuters reports.
Common estimates now put the number of Syrian refugees hosted on Turkish soil at 3.7 million, with another 3 million inside war-torn Idlib province, which means the refugee crisis is set to explode dramatically higher in terms of numbers — a likely scenario given Damascus has vowed to return “every inch” of Idlib and all Syrian territory to its control.
Thus far thousands have fled into neighboring Turkey, but there’s been on the ground reports suggesting HTS militants are blocking the bulk of refugees from leaving, perhaps using them as ‘human shields’ amid the Russian-Syrian onslaught.
During a public speech in Istanbul on Sunday night, Erdogan claimed over 80,000 people were currently fleeing Idlib for the safety of Turkey, and repeated his urgent appeal for Europe to give additional support.
HTS reportedly impeding the movement of civilians trying to flee Maarat al-Numan: pic.twitter.com/BPqDlsSefr
— Lindsey Snell (@LindseySnell) December 21, 2019
“If the violence toward the people of Idlib does not stop, this number will increase even more. In that case, Turkey will not carry such a migrant burden on its own,” Erdogan said.
And he named Greece while invoking the peak of the migrant crisis in 2015, promising a “repeat” if nothing is done:
“The negative impact of the pressure we will be subjected to will be something that all European nations, especially Greece, will also feel,” he said, adding that a repeat of the 2015 migrant crisis would become inevitable.
“We call on European countries to use their energy to stop the massacre in Idlib, rather than trying to corner Turkey for the legitimate steps it took in Syria,” Erdogan said, referencing the Turkish army’s own ongoing ‘Operation Peace Spring’ against US-backed Syrian Kurds.
Erdogan further called the some $3 billion in support offered by the United Nations refugee agency last week “not enough”.
As for Erdogan’s targeting Greece in his latest remarks, this comes amid Turkey’s new jostling to secure oil and gas exploration and drilling rights across a broad swath of the eastern and southern Mediterranean, especially following a contentious deal with Libya’s GNA in Tripoli.
Greek sources: Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias traveled to Benghazi, Libya, on Sunday, where he met with the head of the Libyan National Army, General Khalifa Haftar, according to a ministry statement.
Επίσκεψη ΥΠΕΞ @NikosDendias σε Λιβύη, Αίγυπτο & Κύπρο – Συνάντηση με Στρατάρχη Khalifa Haftar, επικεφαλής Λιβυκού Εθνικού Στρατού (LNA) στη Βεγγάζη
— Υπουργείο Εξωτερικών (@GreeceMFA) December 22, 2019
Athens is reportedly preparing to formally recognize Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s Benghazi-based administration as the official government of Libya, at a moment he and Turkey are in direct open war with each other, given Ankara is said to be shipping more military supplies and possibly even troops to help repel his ongoing offensive against Tripoli. Turkey is the closest military supporter to the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, despite the UN-led arms embargo in place (which no one seems to be abiding by).
Greece has also vowed to thwart Turkish exploration and drilling vessels from traversing its waters to enter disputed maritime regions off Libya.
Thus with Athens now more closely embroiled in the emerging maritime dispute involving Turkey, Cyprus, Libya and Egypt, Erdogan has all the more reason to target Greece with threats of flooding the islands with migrants — as happened in 2015, and which has been a steady stream of new arrivals ever since.