Turkey’s president has accused the European Union of dishonesty and betrayal, and threatened to remove controls from his country’s borders, potentially allowing hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers and other migrants into Europe.
In his first speech since Thursday’s approval in the European Parliament of a non-binding resolution calling on the EU to freeze Turkey’s membership talks, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pictured) told the EU: “We are the ones who feed 3 to 3.5 million refugees in this country. You have betrayed your promises.”
He added: “If you go any further those border gates will be opened.”
He made specific reference to Turkey’s main border crossing with EU member Bulgaria.
The European Parliament vote was in response to the Ankara government’s heavy-handed crackdown following a failed coup in July. Opposition parties, rights groups and Turkey’s western allies have expressed increasing disapproval of actions Ankara defends as part of a war on terror.
After more than a million migrants made their way into Europe, mostly through Turkey, last year, Ankara and the EU in March reached an agreement for Turkey to stem the flow of migrants travelling by sea to Greece in return for certain incentives, including fast-track membership talks, billions of euros in aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey, and visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.
But the response to the coup has made European nations less keen to negotiate with Turkey, while visa liberalisation has hit a hurdle over Turkey’s reluctance to change its anti-terror laws.
During his speech, Mr Erdogan said the money promised had yet to be delivered.
“We have been given $550m by the United Nations. The European Union promised, but the money it has sent so far is around $700m. But what have we spent? Up to now we have spent $15bn.”
Since the thwarted coup, blamed on a network of followers of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, Turkey has engaged in an unprecedented crackdown, jailing tens of thousands and dismissing or suspending 120,000 people suspected of links to the cleric.
It has shut down more than 170 media outlets, detained over 140 journalists and sacked elected Kurdish mayors and replaced them with government-appointed trustees.