Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been using refugees as weapons against the European Union (EU), Austria’s incoming chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Sunday.
“Erdogan is trying to use people as weapons,” Kurz said, speaking in an interview with the Austrian daily, the Kurier newspaper.
Austria’s conservative chancellor design added that the EU should not allow such practices by Erdogan and adopt a strong and clear approach towards him as he “does not understand any other language.”
Kurz, who is set later this week to become an Austrian chancellor for a second time, repeated his remarks in another interview with German newspaper Bild, emphasizing that Erdogan should not be allowed to blackmail the EU.
“The Turkey deal [with the EU] is not working enough, and Greece deserves our full support,” Kurz said, referring to a refugee deal struck in 2016.
In terms of the deal, Turkey agreed to actively prevent Syrian refugees from leaving towards Europe in exchange for €3 billion and visa-free travel for its citizens.
However, Ankara says the money was slow to materialize and paltry next to the $40 billion it claims it has spent, demanding to renegotiate the deal in light of the rising refugee numbers.
Turkey, neighboring both Greece, and Syria already hosts some 4 million refugees who include 3.6 million Syrians.
Similarly, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had warned in September that Turkey should not try to coerce either his country or the EU in an attempt to get international support for a planned safe zone in northern Syria to resettle Syrian refugees.
“Mr. Erdogan must understand that he cannot threaten Greece and Europe in an attempt to secure more resources to handle the refugee [issue],” Mitsotakis said at the time.
Turkey’s Erdogan threatened many times 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.
In December, Erdogan had also vowed not to support a defense plan of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for the Baltic States and Poland unless it gets political support from the bloc for its fight against Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria.
“They [the Turks] are taking eastern Europeans hostage, blocking approval of this military planning until they get concessions,” the diplomatic sources from the alliance commented at the time.
Ankara launched a military operation in northeastern Syria on October 9, with a stated aim to clear the border area off the YPG and to form the safe zone to resettle the refugees.
Since July last year, Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has been removing unregistered Syrians from Istanbul, where more than 500,000 Syrians are officially registered.
In 2019 alone, more than 97,000 Syrians have been removed from Istanbul as part of the AKP’s controversial resettlement plan, the Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya told state-run news agency Anadolu (AA) on Saturday.
Around 300,000 Syrians living in Istanbul are estimated to be affected by the plan.
In December, Amnesty International, a London-based international rights organization, reported that at least 1 000 Syrian refugees had been illegally forced to return to an area of war-torn Syria near the Turkish border.
According to the NGO, Syrian refugees were sent back to Syria, with many receiving threats of violence or being tricked into signing “voluntary return” agreements. However, the AKP government denies the allegations.