Brussels 2 March 2020 – Today some media are asking whether it’s right Greek police is launching tear gas against undefended Syrian refugees trying crossing Turkish border to enter the EU: we reached the bottom of the barrel after years of international actors’ inability to stop the war in Syria and take responsibility for its consequences: over 400.000 dead of which 225.000 civilians between March 2011 and September 2019 (figures United Nations); 5 million refugees in the neighbouring countries and 13 million internally displaced.
On Saturday at least 10.000 Syrians, many of them mothers with children, tried to cross the Northern Turkish border with Greece and Bulgaria after Erdoğan’s decision to stop EU-Turkey agreement by which Ankara held so far within its borders 3,7 millions Syrian refugees escaping war. Under the agreement 6 billion euros have been paid by he EU to Turkey in exchange of containment of the immigration from Syria and influx of refugees in the 27 countries.
But refugees are being stopped from entering Greece: more than 100 of them were arrested, while hundreds are trapped between Greek and Turkish borders as Ankara won’t take them back.
Over this weekend photos of Syrian young men, women with children, elderly, pushed back by Greek police and army deployed at the borders launching tear gas are bouncing on international front pages as a result of Athens’ anti-immigrant right wing led government: tough words from Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias who said Turkey move is against international law and called for an extraordinary meeting of EU Foreign Affairs Council, which High Representative Josep Borrell has soon after confirmed. Meanwhile European Council President Charles Michel with President of Parliament David Sassoli and head of Commission Ursula von der Leyen, are going to Greece to assess the situation on border with Turkey on Tuesday 3rd March.
Why Turkey’s sudden move:
Last week Ankara’s army reported 33 dead in the Idlib province as Erdogan’s government is supporting fighters against Assad’s regime defended by Russia. But it’s important to stress Putin-Erdogan tense relations have not consistently degraded until now.
Syrian civil war is also a Russia-Turkey proxy war, but while the two countries are on opposite sides also in Libya, there’s no consistent and frontal direct hostilities, rather a conflict of interest of political, regional, economic/energetic nature.
As a NATO member, Turkey is seeking to play an assertive role to gain power and regional influence through proxy-wars, by playing as antagonist of Russia, by hampering an EU it has no chances joining as a member at least for the coming decade. Then millions of refugees crossing European borders are a political bomb to an EU constantly threatened by far-right anti-immigration parties growing their influence in Brussels. Right today Austria said is ready to close its borders if EU is not able to find a solution to this last Syrian refugee crisis.
After Turkey lost 33 soldiers in the heavy fighting in Idlib, Erdogan breached agreement with the EU by allowing thousands of Syrian refugees to cross Greek and Bulgarian borders and enter the EU.
As a confirmation for his policy aimed at escalating tensions in the Middle East region, Erdogan sought the US intervention in the Idlib area in Northern Syria at the Turkey southern border, where fightings are raging: the request was for deployment of Patriot missile system. The proposal did not meet Trump’s interest.
The heavy losses aren’t the only reason behind the sudden move to push millions of Syrian refugees towards EU borders. Turkey signed in 2016 the Agreement to hold refugees from Syrian civil war in exchange of 6 billion euros aid. Now looks like a further request is being filed by Ankara in exchange of keeping Syrians in the country.
A kind of blackmail started over last year when 32.000 Syrian have been able to cross the border with Greece. On top of that, Erdogan is asking the Union visas for Turkish workers as he said that was a promise to be upheld by the EU. Brussels, by the way, already mobilised the further three billions end 2019, based on the agreement with Ankara.
Though Turkish president said the country can no longer cope with huge numbers of people fleeing civil war in Syria, Idlib province fighting could cause further refugee crisis which could top up on a looming economic and financial global downturn which might hit every country beyond, and regardless of, borders.
Justine de Braeme