ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday condemned what he said were suggestions in Europe to sink human traffickers' vessels, insisting the plans would leave migrants "to their deaths."
Erdogan's comments came a day before European Union leaders were scheduled to hold an emergency summit in Brussels to discuss ways of stemming migrant trafficking after a boat carrying hundreds of people destined for Europe capsized off Libya. Authorities believe 800 may have been killed.
Combatting the traffickers by arresting ringleaders and destroying their boats has emerged as a proposal to be discussed at the summit, although no one has mentioned targeting boats with people onboard.
Erdogan, speaking at a joint news conference with visiting Iraqi President Fuad Masum, suggested however, the European plans could pave the way for ships being sunk while carrying migrants.
He didn't specify how, but spoke of "statements coming from Europe preparing the ground for (vessels) to be sunk in the Mediterranean, in the Aegean, while transporting migrants and refugees."
Erdogan has increased his anti-West and anti-European rhetoric in recent years. His latest comments follow a decision at the European Parliament to pass a non-binding resolution to commemorate "the centenary of the Armenian genocide" later this week.
Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as genocide. Turkey, however, insists that the toll has been inflated, and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest, not genocide.
The Turkish leader criticized European countries' efforts to stop migrants reaching their borders saying Turkey was currently hosting 1.7 million refugees from Syria and another 300,000 from Iraq because it considered it to be its "humanitarian duty."
"If for one reason or the other these people are fleeing their countries to seek refuge in European countries, what kind of an approach is it to sink the ships they are fleeing on? How can they adopt an approach that leaves the migrants to their deaths?" Erdogan asked. "I condemn and curse the West's attitude."