The intricate negotiations between Turkey and the European Union over refugees boils down to the cash the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has asked of Brussels, Nordic Monitor has learned.
According to a source who spoke to Nordic Monitor, Turkish negotiators have asked for 28 billion euros from the EU in exchange for stopping and managing refugees in Turkey. Erdoğan holds the refugees, many of them non-Syrians who came to Turkey to embark on a voyage to EU member states, as a trump card to blackmail the EU for more cash.
At face value, Erdoğan claims he wants to use the funds to build mass housing projects to settle some 2 million Syrians in northern Syria, where the Turkish military wants to create a safe zone 20 miles deep into Syrian territory and extending all the way to the Iraqi border. However, many suspect Erdoğan wants an injection of cash for his troubled economy as well as finances to sustain his regime.
Last week Turkish public broadcaster TRT revealed that Erdoğan’s plan would cost around 151 billion lira, equivalent to 24 billion euros.
The second round of negotiations between Turkey and the EU over refugees began following the public blackmailing by Erdoğan, who has repeatedly said he would unleash a wave of Syrian and other refugees to flood Europe and destabilize the bloc’s governments. The latest developments revealed that the talks have been accelerated.
President Erdoğan recently met with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece and President-elect of the European Council and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel on the sidelines of 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The leaders discussed the new refugee deal and Erdoğan’s proposal to create a safe zone in Syria, Turkish media reported.
As a follow-up, Germany’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer will visit Turkey on October 3 and 4 for talks on the EU-Turkey refugee deal, the German government announced last week. French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner and EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos will join Seehofer during his two-day visit. It is obvious that the parties will mainly discuss Turkey’s project, which would bring about drastic demographic change, chaos and a new humanitarian disaster.
President Erdoğan first set out his plans in a speech at UNGA in New York, holding up a map to show the zone that Turkey wants to set up with the United States and where it says the refugees would be housed. Moreover, Erdoğan also described his plans in detail in his speech at the opening session of the Turkish parliament’s legislative year on Monday.
President Erdoğan said in parliament that Turkey plans to resettle 2 million Syrians along the 30-kilometer-deep safe zone that will be created in the area between the Euphrates River and the Iraqi border, which includes Manbij. One million people will be placed in new settlements, while the remaining 1 million will be settled in existing areas. According to the project, 1 million people will live in 50 towns with a population of 30,000 each and in 140 villages with a population of 5,000 each. He claimed that these towns and villages would be built with the support of the international community.
“As soon as we save the region from the occupation of the terrorist organization [referring to Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces], God willing, we will set out to work with the support of the international community. We must take this step for our country’s survival, for the success of our war against terrorist organizations and to ensure that our Syrian guests return to their homes in peace,” Erdoğan said.
On its website TRT published mock-up photos of Turkey’s housing project. Each town would also have hospitals, football pitches, 6,000 homes, 11 mosques, nine schools and other facilities, it said. The project, according to observers, also aims at revitalizing the Turkish economy with the help of the construction sector, which has been the engine of previous economic growth in Turkey.
The Turkish president initially said in his UNGA speech that the aim of the zone was to drive back Syrian YPG forces from the border. The region will also be used to settle Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey and European countries if the project is carried out. He told the UN: “If this safe zone can be declared, we can resettle confidently somewhere between 1 and 2 million refugees. Whether with the US or the coalition forces, Russia and Iran, we can walk shoulder-to-shoulder, hand-in-hand so refugees can resettle, saving them from tent camps and container camps.”
Erdoğan had issued a threat of military intervention on September 18, prior to his trip to New York, saying that if the safe zone was not decided upon within two weeks, Turkey would act unilaterally. Erdoğan’s deadline to jointly establish a safe zone with the United States has passed, leaving the threat of a unilateral military intervention by Turkey hanging over the region.
Following his New York visit, Erdoğan chaired a National Security Council (MGK) meeting on Monday to declare that Turkey’s intention to resettle Syrian refugees in northeastern Syria should be taken seriously. A possible military operation in northeast Syria was also discussed at the meeting.
In its written statement the MGK, composed of ministers and commanders of the Turkish army, underlined that “Turkey will consolidate with more advanced steps its sincere efforts for the implementation of the safe zone project that will enable Syrian refugees to return home as soon as possible, and Turkey will not hesitate to take action in order to ensure its own national security.”