Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his country’s borders with Europe are open.
Mr Erdogan’s announcement delivered on his long-standing threat to let refugees into the continent as thousands of migrants gathered at Turkey’s border with Greece.
The announcement marks a dramatic departure from current policy and an apparent attempt to pressure Europe. It comes amid a military escalation in Syria’s Idlib province that has forced hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians to flee fighting between advancing Syrian government forces backed by Russia and rebel fighters supported by Turkey.
The mass displacement in Idlib has raised the possibility that Turkey might come under growing international pressure to open its now sealed border with Syria and offer refuge to desperate Syrian civilians.
“We can’t handle a new wave of migration,” Mr Erdogan said, in an apparent reference to the growing humanitarian crisis in Idlib. Nearly 950,000 displaced civilians have been pushed towards the Syrian-Turkish border amid cold winter weather.
Mr Erdogan said Turkey would not stand in the way of refugees and migrants already in the country who hope to head to Europe.
“We will not close the gates to refugees,” he said. “The European Union has to keep its promises. We are not obliged to look after and feed so many refugees.”
Under a 6 billion euro deal in 2016, Turkey agreed to stem the tide of refugees to Europe in return for financial aid after more than a million people entered Europe in 2015. It has since accused the EU of failing to honour the agreement. Mr Erdogan has frequently threatened to “open the gates” and allow refugees and migrants to head to Europe unless more international support was provided.