Donald Tusk tells Turkey: don’t ‘weaponise’ refugees

Earlier on Friday, France said sanctions on Ankara over its foray into northern Syria were ‘on the table’

epa07908126 European Council President Donald Tusk delivers a speech at the 1st Athens Democracy Forum held in Zappeion Hall in Athens, Greece, 09 October 2019. European Council President Donald Tusk is on an official visit in Greece.  EPA/YANNIS KOLESIDIS
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European Council President Donald Tusk on Friday criticised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s threat of “opening the gates” to send 3.6 million refugees to Europe if the EU labels Ankara’s incursion into northern Syria region as an “invasion”.

"Turkey must understand that our main concern is that their actions may lead to another humanitarian catastrophe," Mr Tusk said at a press conference in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia, on the third day of the Ankara’s incursion into northern Syria.

"And we will never accept that refugees are weaponised and used to blackmail us," he added, referring to an EU agreement with Ankara on refugees, struck in March 2016 as a result of a wave of migration to the bloc.

"President Erdogan's threats of yesterday are totally out of place," he added.

Mr Erdogan had said yesterday: "Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: if you try to frame our operation there as an invasion, our task is simple: we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you.”

European leaders didn’t react warmly to the Turkish president’s words. Earlier on Friday, the French minister for European affairs indicated that sanctions on Turkey over its incursion into northern Syria were a possibility.

Amélie de Montchalin told France Inter that the EU's response to the incursion would be debated at the European Council meeting next week.

Asked if sanctions against Ankara would be under consideration, she said: "Obviously that's on the table."

Sweden’s foreign minister Ann Linde, meanwhile, said that she plans to push for an arms embargo on Ankara, a policy that won the approval of the Swedish parliament on Friday. Finland and Norway however, suspended the export of weapons to Turkey.

This morning, Turkey said it had killed 277 terrorists as a result of the operation, which has also caused tens of thousands of civilians to flee from their homes. A Syrian human rights group said yesterday that up to 100,000 civilians have been displaced since Turkey had launched its offensive against Kurdish strongholds on Wednesday afternoon.

US President Donald Trump on Monday drew criticism from European leaders to Washington Republicans when he gave the green light to Turkey to press on with an offensive into northern Syria, abandoning its Kurdish allies in the process.

The move caused opprobrium because it was seen as ‘disloyal’ to the Kurds, who had been fighting alongside the US and have been instrumental in destroying ISIS in the region. Many leaders fear that Mr Trump’s move will cause a resurgence of the terrorist group, cause untold civilian deaths and ruin America’s reputation in the Middle East to a point of no return.

Although Mr Trump ignored these accusations, he did raise the possibility of sanctioning Ankara, in a typical U-turn from his administration.