In a meeting in Luxembourg on Wednesday, officials from EU member states said that if Turkey invaded north Syria, many of the four million refugees it is hosting — most of whom are Syrians — might decide to head to Europe to avoid being forcibly pushed back into the strife-torn areas in their homeland from which they fled in the first place.
“I hope there won’t be an operation,” Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said. “But imagine that you’re a refugee in Turkey, you’re Syrian — the risk exists that you might be transported one day… into northeast Syria. That’s a factor that could generate a wave toward Europe.”
European officials also warned that the eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Greece had once again become the main channel for asylum-seekers seeking to reach Europe.
“Geopolitical factors, including conflicts in the broader area particularly in Syria, entail that we will most likely see a continuation of this alarming trend (of mass refugee arrivals) in the short to medium term,” Greece, Bulgaria, and Cyprus said in a joint statement.
“For Greece, the spike of the increase of the flows between May and today is an increase of 240 percent. You can imagine the scale of the challenge,” said Greece’s alternate minister for migration, Giorgios Koumoutsakos.
The remarks came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country planned to build towns within a so-called safe zone in northeast Syria, where Syrian refugees would be resettled.
During an address to the parliament in Ankara on Tuesday, Erdogan talked of plans “to resettle two million” Syrian refugees in a safe zone in northern Syria, in the wake of the upcoming air and ground military operations there.
“We plan to resettle two million people along the 30-kilometer deep safe zone which we will create in the area between the Euphrates River and the Iraqi border, including Manbij,” Erdogan said.
Turkey sends military reinforcement to Syria borderTurkey has sent military reinforcement to its border with Syria after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned of an imminent incursion into northeast of the Arab country.
Europe has been the destination of hundreds of thousands of refugees from such crisis zones as Syria in recent years. Particularly when the crisis began in 2015, many of the refugees arrived in Greece — one of the nearest destinations in Europe — often via Turkey.
But, under a deal signed with the EU in March 2016, Turkey agreed to take back and host all the refugees who had used its territory to irregularly reach European shores in return for a number of commitments from the EU, including financial aid.
Turkey has been hosting a reported total of 3.6 million Syrian refugees since foreign-backed militancy began in Syria. Ankara itself, major European powers, and Washington are accused of helping the eruption of the crisis by either arming the militants in Syria or providing safe passage for them into and out of the Arab country.
Turkey also invaded Syria twice — in 2016 and 2018 — to drive back Kurdish militants whom it associates with anti-Ankara terrorists. It has been maintaining an unlawful presence in the Syrian territory ever since.
Syria says Turkey’s military presence in the country is illegal and would ultimately face Syrian government action.