France warns of "real disaster" in north-west Syria

Syria/Turkey – Migratory situation at the European Union’s borders – Replies by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to two questions in the Senate (excerpts)

Paris, 4 March 2020

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The crisis currently being experienced in north-west Syria is tragic. We’re heading for a real disaster in north-west Syria.

The crisis has a cause that must be identified, namely the violation of the Sochi agreement. That agreement stipulated that Idlib Governorate – with three million inhabitants – should be regarded as a de-escalation zone so that the many terrorist groups there could be dismantled and the population could live there normally, even though a large proportion of them are refugees. That agreement was broken.

And it’s Turkey that was responsible for this. Hence the conflict situation, because the regime decided to recapture territory, which means there’s still armed conflict at the moment between the Turkish forces present in that area of Syria and the regime forces.

This is bringing about a real humanitarian disaster in the area – I’ll have the chance to come back to this – and it’s led to unacceptable behaviour by Turkey, which, in order to remedy the conflict, for both domestic and external uses has decided to exploit the migrants who have been on its own territory for a long time, to exert pressure on the European Union. This attitude is unacceptable – this hostage-taking, because that’s what it is; it’s not acceptable and it must be fought against.

So the initiatives we’re taking are twofold: firstly, to take action vis-à-vis Russia to get back to Sochi – and I think the meeting due to be held between President Erdoğan and President Putin will enable us to reach that result – and secondly, to signal our total solidarity with Greece. (…)

France has total solidarity with Greece on this matter. It has total solidarity with Greece, first of all for humanitarian reasons and secondly for political reasons, because what’s happening in Greece concerns us all, since we’re all within the Schengen Area.

I’d also like to point out – although you’ve noticed it – that the migratory pressure currently on Europe’s doorstep, on Greece’s doorstep, slightly on Bulgaria’s and slightly on Cyprus’s is being organized by President Erdoğan’s regime to serve as blackmail against the European Union. The European Union won’t give in to that blackmail.

In March 2016 we reached an agreement with Turkey that guarantees significant finance to Turkey in exchange for the – admittedly difficult – handling of refugees who had come from the previous Syria crisis. €6 billion has already been pledged; half has been paid out. So we expect Turkey itself to fulfil these commitments which we ourselves have honoured and continue to honour.

Now, you will have noticed that we’ve decided to organize a meeting of European Union interior ministers this afternoon. Tomorrow I’m going to Zagreb with my European colleagues to consider together how, in practical terms, we can help Greece today in this especially difficult situation.

I think we’ll be unanimous not only about developing the Frontex operation but also about making the resources available and helping that country in humanitarian terms to face up to this difficulty./.

Published on 17/03/2020

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