Erdogan bargains with refugees in Syria land-grab
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to allow Syrian refugees to leave Turkey for Europe if his long-sought "safe zone" in northern Syria is not established. "We will be forced to open the gates. We cannot be forced to handle the burden alone," he told a meeting of his ruling party, the AKP, stating that Turkey "did not receive the support needed from the world." This is a reference to is the promised financial aid from the European Union, and the provision of visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens, as part of the EU-Turkey deal on refugees struck back in 2016. Only half of the pledged €6 billion has arrived, according to Turkey, and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals has not yet been granted—largely due to concerns about the human rights situation in Turkey. In July, Ankara declared the refugee deal no longer under effect.
Turkey currently hosts some 4 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country—but has for the past two years been denying entry to those attempting to flee Syria. The "safe zone" through Syria's northeast is conceived as part of a larger Turkish-controlled buffer zone across northern Syria, ostensibly aimed at providing harbor for the displaced within Syria's borders. But it would cut through the Kurdish autonomous cantons of Kobani and Cezire, and is seen as a first step toward dismantling the Kurdish self-governing territory in the region.
US Central Command maintains that Kurdish militia forces have withdrawn from the strip along the Turkish border, acquiescing in establishment of the "safe zone." But the US and Turkey remain at odds over the width of the "safe zone," with Ankara demanding 40 kilometers and Washington insisting on 10. (Middle East Monitor, Ahval)