Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used the plight of Syrian refugees in his country in an attempt to blackmail Europe, AFP reported on Thursday September 5th.
Erdogan warned that Turkey would start allowing Syrian refugees to flee to Europe if Ankara did not get more international support.
If the safe zone does not happen, "we will be forced to open the doors. You either give support, or if you won't, sorry, but we can only put up with so much," Erdogan said.
"Are we going to shoulder this burden alone?" he asked during the televised speech in Ankara.
Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees and recently called for a "safe zone" in the war-torn country's northeast, to which refugees could return.
Erdogan claimed Turkey had spent $40 billion on refugees and criticised the West, especially the European Union, for failing to live up to its promises.
Under a 2016 agreement, the EU promised Ankara €6 billion ($6.6 billion) in exchange for stronger controls on refugees leaving its territory for Europe, but Erdogan said only €3 billion had arrived so far.
"We may be forced to do this, open the gates to get this international support," he said.
EU Commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud denied the claim later on Thursday, telling reporters in Brussels that the EU had provided €5.6 billion to Turkey under the agreement, with "the remaining balance due to be allocated shortly".
Turkey fears a fresh influx of refugees as the Syrian government advances into the last rebel stronghold of Idlib.