Europe faces new flood of migrants after Turkey threat

Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a meeting of local administrators at his palace in Ankara, Turkey.

Europe faces another huge influx of migrants after Turkey threatened to “open the gates” for millions of refugees on its soil yesterday.

The threat from President Erdogan came hours before a surprise late-night agreement for a Syrian ceasefire after a breakthrough in talks ­involving 17 nations including Russia, Iran and the United States.

An international meeting on the ­crisis agreed to implement a “cessation of hostilities” in seven days and immediately to ­expand delivery of humanitarian aid to the country, which has been ravaged by four and a half years of bitter conflict.

However, John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, said that the truce would not apply to the fight against the jihadist groups Islamic State and the Nusra Front.

Earlier in the day President Erdogan warned that his patience was wearing thin over the conflict in Syria, as a further 600,000 Syrians were posed to flee to the Turkish border as a result of the conflict.

Alarm is growing in European capitals that thousands of migrants a day are still crossing the Aegean from Turkey to Greece after more than a million made the journey last year. It is feared that the numbers could accelerate this summer.

Turkey is sheltering three million refugees, including about 2.5 million from Syria, and is under pressure from the European Union and United Nations to take in tens of thousands more escaping the advance of President Assad’s forces in the Aleppo region. At least 40,000 are trapped in an area of northern Syria where Turkey has closed the border.

Mr Erdogan said that Turkey could say “goodbye” to refugees on its soil and move them into Europe. “We do not have the word ‘idiot’ written on our foreheads,” Mr Erdogan told business leaders in Ankara. “We will be patient but we will do what we have to. Don’t think that the planes and the buses are there for nothing.”

He also criticised calls by the UN for Turkey to reopen its border with Syria, complaining that the international body had spent less than half a billion dollars tackling the crisis. “Shame on you! Shame on you! The United Nations should give advice to other countries — and then we can send the refugees to these countries,” he said.

Last night Russia warned of a “new world war” if Gulf states sent in ground troops to Syria as part of an American-led shift in strategy to step up the fight against Islamic State. Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian prime minister, called for all sides to negotiate rather than allow new forces to join the conflict.

In Brussels, Nato defence ministers approved plans drawn up jointly by the Germans and Turks to combat people smugglers in the Aegean. Nato naval patrols will monitor the flow of migrants and provide intelligence to coastguards in Greece and Turkey.

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, said that a standing group of three warships would be moved to the Aegean without delay. “This is about helping Greece, Turkey and the European Union with stemming the flow of migrants and refugees and coping with a very demanding situation,” he said. “This is not about stopping or pushing back refugee boats.” There are three vessels under German command in the Nato standing maritime group being deployed but other countries have offered to send reinforcements that could bring that to as many as seven. Ash Carter, the US defence secretary, said that the mission was aimed at “a criminal syndicate that is exploiting these poor people”. Public sympathy for the migrants had peaked after the publication in September of pictures of a dead Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, three, lying face down on a Turkish beach. Two alleged people smugglers went on trial in Turkey yesterday (Thursday) accused of causing the death of the boy and four others including his mother and brother.

Muwafaka Alabash and Asem Alfrhad, both Syrians, denied any responsibility for the migrants’ deaths. Instead, they blamed Aylan’s father, Abdullah, accusing him of organising the trip and of sailing the boat.

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