Author: Lamprini Basdeki
The Syrian civil war has led millions of people outside their homes and it is becoming increasingly complicated, with more and more actors being involved in it, such as Russia, making the country not a viable place for any of its’ inhabitants. The following article, by Lamprini Basdeki, MSc International Security and Law, seeks to analyze the crisis and the fleeing of refugees from their country, as well as what the current deal between Turkey and EU means for the refugees.
It is no longer news that the civil war taking place in Syria is pushing a massive wave of refugees towards Europe. Thousands of Syrian refugees, as well as refugees from other countries are crossing the borders of the European Union, starting from Greece, the main entry point. Who is responsible for the crisis though? What has been the role of Turkey in this? What does the recent agreement between Turkey and the European Union mean? Who is paying for all this?
Turkey, Syria and the outbreak of the war
Let’s just take things from the beginning though: back in 2011, Turkey and Syria have had remarkable relations, with the two leaders being fond of each other, having frequent visits and expressing admiration for one another. After the outbreak of the Arab Spring and the initial turbulence in Syria, Turkey kept distant, by using its’ “zero problems with neighbors” policy and refused to take a side. However, as the crisis became increasingly larger and reached Syria, Turkey abandoned the policy, as the use of violence from the side of Assad increased Erdogan’s fears that members of PKK or of Al Qaeda would enter the country and ravage it. The beliefs of the two leaders clearly stand aside: Assad is clearly of the opinion that a healthy democratic regime needs to be created, no matter how many lives are lost, while Erdogan things that violence cannot be the case in Syria. Erdogan stood himself against Assad, first with a staunch critic of his violent approach by referring to him as a “dictator who has led to the deaths of about 350.000 people”, and then practically by declaring his support to the Sunnis, the opposition, which he also started funding.
But was it just Turkey who funded the Syrian opposition? No. Apparently, the United States has publicly admitted funding them, and great news sources have been pointing out Saudi Arabia, EU and Qatar among the greatest donors of the Sunnis, who assisted apparently with this manner in the escalation of the violence and in the creation of the Islamic State, with the very well-known results.
What happens today?
Today, a huge amount of Syrian refugees are escaping the war, by crossing the Turkish borders to reach countries such as Germany and Sweden. As the EU countries are struggling with the refugee crisis and some of them are even closing the borders towards the moving-to-the-north refugees, it seems that there is a lack of a coherent policy from the European side towards this. As the winter is approaching, more and more refugees are arriving to the Greek coasts, from which and thereafter they only receive assistance from volunteers instead of a mutual European care. In addition to this, the European countries cannot individually agree how many refugees can they take, people are suffering or dying from their effort to reach the European continent and they also deal with the European xenophobia, which can be seen by the rise of extremist parties around Europe.
The cherry on top of the cake is the recent deal that was reached between the EU and Turkey, with the latter one being clearly the winner in this case and which I argue that is extremely dangerous and not well considered: Turkey agreed to control the Syrian refugees and to basically keep them in the country so that Europe will not get their burden, with the exchange of easening the visa restrictions for the Turks and a bonus of 3 billion euros for Ankara, just because the Europeans are afraid.
Why is the deal dangerous?
Turkey is one of the countries that can be held responsible for the violence in Syria and for the creation of the Islamic State. It is also, though, one of the “generous” countries, like Lebanon and Jordan, which are hosting the refugees who are fleeing from death in their own home. Turkey hosts at the moment about 2 million Syrians, a number way larger than the number that the European continent has received in total and has been nagging about. According to several humanitarian agencies, Turkey has the absolute capabilities of hosting the refugees – however the refugees are choosing to even flee Turkey and to risk their lives in order to reach Europe. The reason is that Turkey itself, despite having the capacity to host the refugees, is still not safe enough. As Rebecca Bryant thoroughly describes in her recent article, “had the EU embraced Turkey a few years ago”, it would be a safer environment for everyone.
When the EU was denying the accession of Turkey to the organization, Turkey stopped the democratization process it was undergoing and it started becoming more and more authoritarian. Erdogan took a clear turn, he has not been promoting the fundamental right of the freedom of speech and he abused human rights for a number of years, with the most impressive violation being the Gezi park protests. As to the refugees, Turkey has done nothing to stop the refugee traffickers, who are dangerously assisting people to cross from the Turkish coasts to the Greek islands via boats. All that has turned Turkey to definitely not a safe haven for refugees and the deal a very risky one, which only tries to protect the states instead of the people by a simple money exchange: Turkey is in desperate need of expertise and more involvement from the EU side so as to be actually able to cope with the integration of the refugees in its’ own soil, not just a few billions to get things done.
Who is paying the price?
Thousands of lives are paying the price, as the refugees do not wish to stay in Turkey and prefer to take the dangerous path towards Europe with the aid of smugglers. On the other side, the European countries are mostly keen on deploying some European movements in the entry points of the EU, such as Greece or south Italy which are seeing a lot of turbulence which they cannot control at their territory, but none of them wants them in their border. For example, the Frontex force has been increased by a number of bodyguards, but the countries cannot agree on an equal distribution of the people. In addition to that, there is no unified European action to assist the refugee arrivals and they are simply based on humanitarian actions from a number of NGOs or local volunteers, who are willing to provide them with the basics. Meanwhile, a number of the EU countries are shutting down the borders, a lot of the refugees are stuck on the Greek islands and the winter is approaching, which will certainly lead to an increasing number of deaths, if the European response towards the crisis does not shift its’ current course. As it seems, Europe, which has been much involved in the Syrian crisis, refuses to accept the number of refugees and describes them as a huge burden for the welfare of the countries belonging in the organization and has decided to throw the ball to Turkey, in order to not take responsibility for its’ own actions. And while Germany, has decided to suspend the Dublin regulation for a while in order to receive a number of refugees and assist them, the rest of the countries are simply not following this example and they are instead building fences – which will surely not stop the refugees from seeking a better life.
- Time, “Why the E.U. Is Offering Turkey Billions to Deal With Refugees”, available at: http://time.com/4076484/turkey-eu-billions-dollars-refugee-slow/
- BBC, “Europe’s asylum seekers”, available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-24636868
- The Wall Street Journal, “Europe’s Migration crisis: Refugees move faster than the EU”, available at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/europes-migration-crisis-refugees-move-faster-than-the-eu-1443127840
- IRIN news, Rebecca Bryant, “The EU’s dirty deal”, available at: http://www.irinnews.org/report/102122/the-eu-s-dirty-deal
- Aljazeera news, “The EU’s stinking refugee deal with Turkey”, available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/10/eu-stinking-refugee-deal-turkey-151026093515679.html