Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is threatening to cause another migrant crisis in Europe, similar to what occurred in 2015, if the European Union (E.U.) does not pay Turkey to manage the refugee situation. After Syrian forces – with the help of Russia – bombarded Turkish troops in Idlib, killing dozens of soldiers, Erdogan urged thousands of Syrian refugees residing in Turkey to head toward the Greek islands.
If Erdogan follows through on his threat, it will violate the agreement drafted between Turkey and the E.U. in 2016. But it could also have other dire consequences, especially while the Coronavirus pandemic is in full swing.
A New Deal?
The initial 2015 Turkey-sponsored surge of refugees into Europe resulted in tens of thousands of migrants making their way into numerous European nations. Turkey ended that exodus when the E.U. struck a deal with its government.
Under the terms of the agreement, the E.U. pledged a total of $6.77 billion in financial aid in two installments. Ankara was supposed to use the funds to finance initiatives for Syrian refugees. Turkish citizens would be granted visa freedom, and the customs union between the two entities would be updated.
In return, Turkey agreed to decrease the flow of refugees into Europe. Ankara would accomplish this by adopting harsher measures against human traffickers and provide better conditions for Syrian refugees residing in Turkey.
The Turkish government has cut down on migration considerably since signing the agreement. However, Erdogan has taken issue with the E.U. for not fulfilling its promise to deliver the second and final payment. Moreover, it has not implemented the visa-free travel component for Turkish citizens.
Turkey hosts about 3.6 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world. So far, it has spent about $40 billion to house the migrants.
Erdogan’s Refugee Threat
It appears that Erdogan is using the same strategy to get the E.U. to the table that he did in 2015. In February, he demanded assistance from NATO after the Syrian strike in the Idlib province killed 35 Turkish soldiers. The Turkish president believes that the West should provide more air support in Syria and secure increased financial aid for refugees living within Turkey’s border.
This time, Erdogan didn’t merely threaten to look the other way while migrants moved on to Greece. He took it a step further. According to The New York Times, government officials purchased thousands of bus tickets to help migrants get to the Greek islands faster. State media promoted the move and live-streamed footage of refugee families getting into boats headed for Greece.
Will the EU and Turkey Reach an Agreement?
On March 24, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Erdogan participated in a conference call to discuss another deal. The leaders also worked on ways to address the Russian threat in Idlib and the possibility that the Coronavirus could begin infecting refugee camps in the Middle East.
Some have accused the Turkish president of blackmail for busing migrants toward Greece, which has resorted to using water hoses to repel those trying to force their way into the country. Greece has suspended asylum applications for at least one month.
It does not appear that the E.U. and Turkey have ironed out a deal yet, and the refugee situation seems to be worsening. In an article written for the Financial Times, Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently accused Greece of “inhuman treatment” of refugees at the border and castigated the E.U. for allegedly excusing Greece’s conduct.
“The EU was meant to be a world power that stood as a beacon for human rights and respect for the international rules-based order. But unless something is done about Greece’s treatment of refugees, and the frenzied support it still receives from the EU, that claim will collapse,” the foreign minister said.
The E.U. and Turkey will likely be able to hammer out an agreement that works for both sides. But the question is when. Both sides have a vested interest in striking a deal, Until then, the refugees remain in limbo.
Read more from Jeff Charles.
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