As more and more people rush into the arms of Turkey, she herself has been thrown against the cold stone wall of “Fortress Europe” with nowhere to go, politically or otherwise. The Russian airstrike in the earliest hours of the 28 of February 2020 cemented a reality that has been formulating since the Syrian conflict escalations following the US departure last fall: third wave of the refugee crisis. According to the UNHCR data, of the 5,561,824 persons in positions of concern and registered as refugees. Of these, 3,587,266 of them (67%) currently reside in Turkey (Operational Portal of Refugee Situations, 2020). However, since December alone, 950,00 have been displaced, and they have already begun to flee towards the Syrian-Turkish border.
Adding insult to injury, the Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic has announced that Greece “will not be accepting any new asylum applications for 1 month.” Among other comments, he has also stated that “Europe will not be blackmailed by Turkey over the refugee issue… The Border of Greece are the external borders of the European Union. We will protect them.” The words of the Greek Prime Minister echo the notion of “Fortress Europe,” the tail’s side of the “Borderless Europe” coin. While the security of the EU border is indeed of a concern which the EU has every right to protect, looking the other way against violence committed against individuals who are fleeing for their lives is more than shameful.
“Army and police patrols used tear gas and stun grenades to thwart attempts by thousands to push into the country overnight. Greek authorities said they thwarted 9,877 attempts to cross the northwestern land border a 24-hour period, arresting 68 people and charged them with illegal entry” (Euronews).
Children have been among the border deaths. Videos of violence committed by the Greek coastguard against maritime migrants and (although unconfirmed) evidence suggests that there have been instances of the deliberate sinking of migrant vessels. According to Alberto Alemanno, a professor of EU law at HEC Paris, “The Greek suspension represents a manifest breach of both European asylum law and international humanitarian law by creating an unprecedented mechanism that will likely condemn deserving asylum applicants to deportation and death.”
Some might argue that Erdoğan’s exasperated release-of-the-floodgates is but another example of the extreme oscillations traditionally prevalent within Turkish foreign policy—a decade of calm matched by a decade of chaos. An example of this may be found in the chaos of the late 1990s and apparent recovery in the early 2000s: “Turkey came close to military confrontation with Greece in 1996, as well as with Syria in 1998. Furthermore, Turkey threatened Cyprus in 1997 with military action if Russian S-300 missiles were to be deployed on the island. There were also threat of the use of force made against Iran, and relations with Russia were particularly strained” (Kemal Kirişci, 31). Less than a decade later however, reports broadcasted about rapprochement with Greece and the relaxations of division in Cyprus. Around this time as well Turkey was deepening dialogues with Armenia, making toe-in-the-water attempts to balance its relations with the Kurds in Northern Iraq, initiating efforts to arbitrate talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and engaging in diplomatic exercises with Israel and Syria. In the 20th century, such news would have been unfathomable …. almost as unimaginable as it is now. Not only has Turkey’s role in the eastern block of its neighborhood become significantly more tense, but the sense of betrayal associated with its European neighbors it once hoped to join has further soured Turkish perceptions of the entire European Union as an institution. With that being said, the repercussions of this week’s events ring on a much larger scale than even this.
As the host of proxy wars amongst the great powers, the Syrian Crisis does not simply belong to Syria. Powerful politicians have exploited Syria’s internal strife for nearly a decade, thus globalizing an otherwise domestic civil war. Now, the effects of this conflict are spilling internationally in large part due to the carelessness of foreign policy decision-makers. Civil populations (sending and receiving) are bearing the brunt of these actions. If humanitarian concern alone is not enough to sway politics (sadly, it has not been), then at a bare minimum, it should be noted that escalating the conflict further poses as a genuine detriment to both the collective security and economic detriment of all parties involved. According to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a recent statement to the press, “The message is clear: There is no military solution for the Syrian crisis. The only possible solution remains political. This man-made humanitarian nightmare for the long-suffering Syrian people must stop. It must stop now” (United Nations, 2020).