Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to send millions of Syrian refugees to Europe if the continent’s leaders do not support his military offensive in northeastern Syria, the Gazete Duvar news portal reported on Thursday.
“Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: if you try to frame our operation there as an occupation, our task is simple: we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you,” Erdogan said in a fiery speech to his ruling AK Party (AKP) members on Thursday.
“They are not honest, they just make up words … We, however, take action and that is the difference between us,” Erdogan said referring to the latest criticism by world leaders and organizations. Erdogan’s threat followed demands from EU countries that Turkey should stop its offensive in Syria that left 17 civilians, including several children dead on its second day according to a report by the Independent on Thursday.
More than 60,000 people have also fled their homes as Turkish troops advanced into Syria, capturing nine Syrian villages and encircling two Kurdish-held towns as part of an offensive that has been underway since Wednesday.
Ankara claims its military action in northeastern Syria targeting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, intends to establish a safe zone to enable the return of nearly four million Syrian refugees in Turkey to their homeland.
The Turkish government designates YPG, a crucial US ally in the war against the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group in the region a terror organization for its links to the outlawed Kurdish separatists in Turkey known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Ankara which has long vowed to wipe out the Kurdish militia presence along its border in northern Syria, only pressed ahead after US President Donald Trump withdrew US forces from the area on Sunday in a move that is labeled by the SDF as a “stab in the back.”
“The operation is currently continuing with the involvement of all our units. … One-hundred-nine  terrorists have been killed so far,” Erdogan also stated on Thursday.
Europe fears that a Turkish incursion into Syria could threaten regional security due to the risk of some 18,000 ISIS militants being held as prisoners in the region escaping from camps amid the chaos.
“Renewed armed hostilities in the northeast will further undermine the stability of the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering and provoke further displacements,” Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, and Poland said in a joint statement read by Germany’s Deputy UN Ambassador Jurgen Schulz.
Upon the request of the five European states, which called on Turkey through the joint statement to cease its military action in southeastern Syria, the United Nations Security Council on Thursday met to discuss the issue.
Speaking to the press following Thursday’s closed-door meeting, US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft warned Turkey against consequences if its assault in northeast Syria did not protect vulnerable populations or contain ISIS militants.
“Failure to play by the rules, to protect vulnerable populations, failure to guarantee that ISIS cannot exploit these actions to reconstitute, will have consequences,” Craft said, without explaining what those consequences could be.
Reuters reported that the Turkish government on Wednesday vowed in a letter to the 15-member UN Security Council that its Syria operation would be proportionate, measured and responsible.
“The operation will only target terrorists and their hideouts, shelters, emplacements, weapons vehicles and equipment. All precautions are taken to avoid collateral damage to the civilian population,” Turkey’s UN Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu wrote.