Erdogan threatens to flood EU with migrants

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey will open its borders if accession talks are stalled, he says

ISTANBUL • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened yesterday to open Turkey's borders to allow migrants to reach the EU, in a move that would tear up a landmark deal that had reduced the flow.

Mr Erdogan's comments, some of his toughest in recent times against the European Union, prompted an immediate warning from Germany, which helped broker the deal, that such threats were unhelpful.

The threat came a day after the European Parliament angered Ankara by backing a freeze in EU accession talks.

The vote for a non-binding motion urges the European Commission and national governments to institute what they acknowledge would be a largely symbolic freeze in negotiations because of Turkey's "disproportionate" reaction to July's failed coup.

"Listen to me. If you go any further, then the frontiers will be opened. Bear that in mind," Mr Erdogan told the EU during a speech in Istanbul.

He said Brussels had cried out for help last year as tens of thousands of migrants massed at Turkey's border crossing with EU member Bulgaria.

OPENING THE FLOODGATES

Listen to me. If you go any further, then the frontiers will be opened. Bear that in mind.

PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, accusing the EU of failing to fulfil its promises to Turkey.

On March 18, Ankara and Brussels forged a deal for Turkey to halt the flow of migrants to Europe - an accord that has largely been successful in reducing the number of asylum seekers crossing the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece. Hundreds of migrants have drowned in the sea en route from Turkey to EU member Greece.

They included three-year-old Syrian Aylan Kurdi, with the images of his lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach spurring the international community into action.

Turkey agreed to step up maritime and land border controls in exchange for incentives on its long-stalled membership bid, including visa-free travel for its citizens and an acceleration of accession talks.

However, with an October target unmet, no apparent progress on the visa issue and the accession talks stalled, Ankara has accused Brussels of failing to keep its side of the bargain.

In response to Mr Erdogan's remarks, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Ms Ulrike Demmer, said the deal is in the interest "of all parties" and that "threats on either side are not helpful".

"Where there are difficulties, we need to resolve them," she added.

Mr Erdogan said that while Turkey itself is looking after three million refugees - mainly 2.7 million Syrians from the civil war, but also Iraqis - the EU did not "fulfil its promises".

He has also accused Brussels of failing to fulfil a promise to deliver €6 billion (S$9.1 billion) in aid for refugees. The EU said the money is to be transferred gradually for individual projects and not in a single payment.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2016, with the headline 'Erdogan threatens to flood EU with migrants'. Print Edition | Subscribe