Turkey's President Wants Europe to Share Refugee Burden From Syria
By Dorian Jones September 13, 2019
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is warning Europe to share the refugee burden or face a new wave of migrants, as Turkey fears a new influx of Syrian refugees. Erdogan's threat coincides with a surge of migrants entering Greece from Turkey.
"People are pouring in," said professor of political science Cengiz Aktar of the University of Athens. "On three of the biggest (Greek) islands, the refugee population has surged dramatically compared to the numbers of local people living there."
According to the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, 8,100 migrants arrived at the Greek islands in August.
"We don't know if the Turkish authorities are encouraging the refugees to go to Greece, but the potential is there," Aktar said. "Turkey is hosting around 4 million refugees. Add to that the pressure from (the Syrian province of) Idlib, it makes for an explosive cocktail for everybody."
Syria's Idlib province is the last rebel enclave in that country's civil war and is under siege from Damascus' forces. Earlier this month, the Turkish Red Crescent said half a million refugees fled toward the Turkish border to escape the fighting.
"We will be forced to open the gates (to Europe)," said Erdogan last week. "We cannot be forced to handle the burden alone."
"Turkey is declaring all over the world the Idlib crisis must not only be the problem for Turkey," said international relations professor Mesut Casin of Istanbul's Yeditepe University.
"It's the security problem for the European Union. Why? We know a lot of people pass from the Turkey border to Greece and then to Germany and France. For Europe, a new mass migration will go to Europe."
In 2015, nearly 800,000 migrants made the short sea crossing from Turkey to the Greek Islands. Many then moved on to the rest of Europe, in particular, Germany.
The humanitarian crisis was only brought under control when Turkey and the European Union signed a refugee deal in 2016.
The deal dramatically curtailed migrants and refugees entering Greece from Turkey; however, Erdogan's warnings of opening Turkey's border gates, coupled with a surge in people arriving in the Greek Islands, caught Berlin's attention.
"I have discussed these issues in a phone call with my Turkish counterpart, [Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut] Cavusoglu, this week," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Thursday.
"I once again highlighted that the EU would honor its commitments under the EU-Turkey refugee agreement," adding he expected Ankara also to honor the agreement.
The Turkish president is voicing growing frustration with Brussels over the deal. This month, Erdogan said only $2 billion of the $3 billion agreed to, had been paid by the EU. The Turkish president also emphasized the amount is insignificant given the more than $30 billion Turkey has paid in supporting the Syrian refugees.
Erdogan's primary concern is the growing discontent within Turkey over the refugees.
"Syrian refugees are becoming an explosive social problem, which forces Erdogan to act sternly in Syria," said analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners.
The Turkish president is trying to build international support for the creation of a buffer zone in northeastern Syria, which is currently controlled by the YPG Syrian Kurdish militia. Ankara considers the YPG terrorists linked to a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.
The buffer zone is intended to not only protect Turkey's border but also to relocate Syrians living in Turkey. "We are saying we should form such a safe zone so that we, as Turkey, can build towns instead of the tent cities here. Let's carry them (Syrians) to the safe zones there," Erdogan said last week in Ankara.
"Either you (European Union) will provide (financial) support, or excuse us, but we are not going to carry this weight alone. We have not been able to get help from the international community, namely the European Union," Erdogan added.
A source within the Turkish presidency said Erdogan will press his case next week at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Erdogan is expected to have sideline meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
"The European leaders will not support Erdogan's plan. It has zero chance," said Aktar. "This is going back to the Middle Ages. You just can't take territory to place refugees there under military occupation. This is not feasible or sustainable."
"But European leaders are sensitive to Turkey's situation, and there is a chance of renegotiating the refugee deal," he added. "The refugee deal is important. All sides need to talk but not by threats."
Experts say Erdogan's priority is preventing the fall enclave of Idlib to Syrian forces, which is predicted to trigger a surge of refugees into Turkey.
"It's (Idlib) a kind of new civilian disaster," said professor Casin. "President Erdogan will talk to the international community in New York at the U.N. General Assembly, to the European leaders and U.S. President (Donald) Trump."
"The international community and also the media, they do not want to see what is happening in Idlib, he added. "There are already a lot of refugees living in Turkey. If one million more people come to Turkey from Idlib, Turkey cannot accept this situation. Mr. Erdogan says we can open the border and they can go to Europe."
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