As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated threats to send millions of Syrian refugees to Europe if European countries continue to brand his country’s military incursion in Syria an occupation, Athens condemned the offensive amid growing concerns about its broader repercussions.
In the latest of a series of threats, Erdogan responded to Europe-wide criticism about Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish-led Syrian forces in northeastern Syria by saying he would open the floodgates to some 3.6 million Syrians. “We will open the gates and send 3.6 million refugees your way,” he said in a speech to MPs from his Justice and Development Party. Responding to the storm of criticism from around the world, Erdogan said of his detractors, “They are not honest, they just make up words,” adding, “We, however, take action and that is the difference between us.”
He claims the operation aims to create a “safe zone” to facilitate the return of millions of refugees. But world leaders and aid agencies fear that refugees will be forcibly relocated to northern Syria, with the European Union saying that “any attempt at demographic change would be unacceptable.”
Greece, for its part, called Turkey’s offensive a “direct violation of international law.” The Greek Foreign Ministry Thursday urged Turkey to halt its military operation, echoing the EU position expressed on Wednesday when Kurds staged a protest rally in Athens.
The statement called the offensive a violation of international law that puts the stability of the region at risk while jeopardizing United Nations efforts to put an end to the Syrian crisis. The ministry also warned against forced population movements and the forceful alteration of demographics, adding that Turkey would be held accountable for the humanitarian repercussions of the invasion. “A sustainable settlement to the Syrian conflict cannot be achieved via military means,” it said.
A key concern for Athens is the possibility of a new wave of refugees from Turkey akin to the crisis of late 2015 and early 2016, when thousands of migrants were landing on the islands of the eastern Aegean daily. Island camps are already overcrowded following an uptick in arrivals from Turkey and authorities have stepped up transfers to the mainland.