Greece Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has warned that Turkey should not try to coerce either his country or the European Union (EU) in an attempt to get international support for a planned safe zone in northern Syria to resettle Syrian refugees.
“Mr [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan must understand that he cannot threaten Greece and Europe in an attempt to secure more resources to handle the refugee [issue],” Mitsotakis told reporters in a news conference in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.
On Thursday, Erdogan threatened to open his country’s borders to allow a flood of refugees into Europe, if Turkey does not receive adequate international support for setting up the zone.
Turkey wants to push back the militias of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara deems to be a terrorist organization due to its alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK is an armed insurgent group fighting a decades-old insurgency for Kurdish self-rule against Turkey in the southeast.
In contrast, the United States (US) sees the YPG as an important ally in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.
At the time, Erdogan also vowed that Turkey would no longer carry the burden of refugees alone as it could not get help from the international community, notably the EU.
He said the country had only received between 3 billion and 4 billion dollars out of 6 billion euros which were promised in the 2016 EU-Turkey Joint Declaration.
“Europe has given a lot of money, six billion euros in recent years, within the framework of an agreement between Europe and Turkey and which was mutually beneficial,” the Greek PM said.
Turkey is one of the busiest transit countries for many migrants fleeing war, persecution, political crackdowns and poverty while trying to reach Europe. In recent years more than a million migrants and refugees passed through the country on their way to the EU states.
The EU-Turkey deal stipulates the latter has to take all the necessary measures to prevent migrants from reaching Greece in return for billions in aid.
Until recently, the deal saw a sharp decrease in the number of crossing migrants.
However, the number of monthly arrivals to Greece increased to about 7,000 in August, the highest in three years, according to a Reuters report.
Turkey, neighboring both Greece, and Syria already hosts some 4 million refugees who include 3.6 million Syrians.
Turkey fears a further spill-over in the event of an all-out assault on Idlib, among other concerns.
Mitsotakis said he could not rule out a discussion in the “spirit of goodwill” at a European level with Turkey on how to extend the financial benefits of the 2016 deal. But this would not happen, he said, while Greece was on the receiving end of “threats” and “bullying” behavior.
Athens could not rule out a discussion in the “spirit of goodwill” at a European level with Ankara on how to extend the financial benefits of the 2016 deal Mitsotakis said.