Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has said that up to 400,000 migrants can reach Europe if Turkish coast guard works in normal capacity instead of overworking.
“We’ve had enough of irregular migration. We are working in full capacity,” Soylu said in a speech in the southern province of Antalya on Oct. 17, adding that 70 percent of coast guard’s equipment is assigned to handle irregular migration.
“We are working four times harder than our capacity. We need to work within our capacity. [If we do that] 7,000 migrants would pass to Greece in the first week. Some 100,000 [would pass] in the second week and 200,000 in the third week. The number of refugees to reach Europe would arrive at 400,000,” he also said.
Soylu’s remarks came amid European countries’ criticism to Turkey’s military offensive in northeastern Syria that was launched on Oct. 9.
The offensive called Operation Peace Spring aims to clear the area of People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants and set up a “safe zone” for the return of Syrian refugees.
Thousands of ISIS militants are held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which was Washington’s main ally in the fight against the jihadist group.
European countries have been voicing concerns regarding ISIS resurgence that they suggest may happen as a result of the operation against the Kurdish militants.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave a defiant speech last week, saying that the incursion won’t end until Turkey’s aims are achieved.
He also pointed to the fact that there are over 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.
“We will open our borders and send 3.6 million refugees your way,” he said.
During his speech, Minister Soylu said that his remarks regarding the number of migrants to reach Europe “are not threats,” adding that if the offensive is not carried out, Turkey would be “delivered to the terrorist organization.”
“This is not a threat, but a fact. I would like to ask Europe; Are you aware of what you’re doing? The terrorist organization, instability and [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad will send millions of people to Turkey. You would be handing Turkey to the terrorist organization,” Soylu said.
The minister also slammed Europe for criticizing the operation and making the country battle migration at the same time.
“Are your lives valuable and ours are not?” he asked.
We will need to use force against migrants, Hungarian PM says
Separately, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that his country would have to “use force” at its southern border with Serbia to protect the European Union’s frontier if Turkey opens the gates for refugees through the Balkans towards Europe.
Orban built a steel fence on Hungary’s border with Serbia to seal off the Balkans route of migration, where hundreds of thousands of people marched through from the Middle East to Western Europe at the peak of the crisis in 2015.
The EU relies on Turkey to curb the arrival of refugees into Europe following a 2016 agreement to seal off the Aegean route after more than 1 million people entered the bloc.
“The next weeks will decide what Turkey does with these people,” Orban told private broadcaster HirTV in an interview late on Oct. 16.
“It can steer them in two directions: take them back to Syria or set them off towards Europe. If Turkey chooses the latter, these people will arrive at Hungary’s southern border in huge masses,” Orban said, adding that the EU, while criticizing Ankara, should provide more funds to Turkey to help rebuild Syrian towns.
Orban, who has often been at loggerheads with Brussels over some of his policies affecting migrants, said currently there were about 90,000 people on the Balkans migration route and their ranks could swell to 100,000 shortly.
“If Turkey sets off further hundreds of thousands on top of this, then we will need to use force to protect the Hungarian border and the Serbian-Hungarian frontier and I do not wish for anyone that we should need to resort to that,” Orban said.