Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to send millions of Syrian refugees into Europe if the European Union labels his offensive in the country’s northern region an “invasion,” according to The Independent.
In a speech to lawmakers from his AK Party on Thursday, Erdogan said, “We will open the gates and send 3.6 million refugees your way,” after the EU released a statement calling on “Turkey to cease the unilateral military action.”
Erdogan reportedly was angered by the statement, which also criticized his plan to build a “safe zone” in the territory he is trying to seize. The statement said forcing refugees to relocate to the zone would not “satisfy international criteria for refugee return as laid down by UNHCR”.
“Any attempt at demographic change would be unacceptable,” the statement said. ”The EU will not provide stabilisation or development assistance in areas where the rights of local populations are ignored.”
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, about 60,000 people have already been displaced by the Turkish incursion, which has also resulted in at least eight civilian deaths so far.
Erdogan has said “109 terrorists have been killed so far,” referring to the Kurdish-led forces which his government considers a terrorist group, but Rami Abdurrahman, from the monitoring group The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the number is more like 19.