Fresh memories of the 2015 migrant crisis during which many lives were lost and dissension among European Union (EU) members took place looks like reoccurring with Turkey’s recent actions. Last week, Ankara opened its borders for the refugees towards Europe. Turkey’s action is being viewed by European countries as a violation of Turkey’s refugee agreement with the EU which had halted the migration crisis of 2015-2016. However, Turkey says that it has reached its capacity and can no longer hold the gates for Europe, as the EU has not stood by the promises made. Ankara has alleged that EU has not released the € 6 billion promised aid, nor increased trade with Turkey; or expedited negotiations on Turkey’s accession to the EU or visa-free travel to the EU member states for Turkish citizens. The EU has refuted these accusations. In fact, the European Commission claims that the aid it was supposed to give to Turkey has been paid out in full—albeit to refugee aid organizations and not directly to the Turkish government.
On Turkey’s accusation of the non-negotiation on EU membership, it has to be viewed in the context of certain harsh actions taken by Turkish President Receip Tayyip Erdogan after the 2016 coup d’état. The Turkish government has been ruthless in its attacking journalists and critics. A large number of German citizens are stuck in Turkish jails. The overall weakening of global trade, has impacted trade between Europe and Turkey. The rise of right-wing conservative politics (including anti-immigration parties) within Europe and Turkey’s strong fundamentalist leanings and de-globalization in Europe has created an uncomfortable situation. Xenophobia and religious intolerance in Europe including against Turkey, a NATO ally has risen.
Europe is still recovering from the 2015 migrant crisis. However, the member states of EU and NATO do not want to push Turkey away from the orbit of the trans-Atlantic security architecture as the consequences could be heavy for Europe, including from the migration perspective.
It is an undeniable fact that Turkey is the largest country apart from Jordan to have absorbed 3.6 million refugees from Syria. However, Ankara has said that it is unable to take in more refugees. The domestic situation within Turkey is fragile. The country’s economy is in a bad shape. There is high inflation, unemployment and violence against the refugees. With Syrian refugees surging in, the domestic situation in Turkey could get further complicated.
With the ongoing conflict in Idlib, Syria; many Syrian refugees are trying to take refuge in Turkey. There has been forceful deportation of these refugees by Turkish government under the resettlement plan of 2019. More refugees mean derailment of peace and stability within the country.
Ankara also wants Europe’s help for providing security to Turkey to defeat the Syrian Kurds and the Syrian government. The Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al Assad are battering the Turkish forces in Idlib. Mr. Erdogan wanted to play a pivotal role in the Syrian war, but that role has eluded him so far. Ankara’s security and reputation in the Arab world and in the international community too is now delicate. The Turkish President stands to lose his popularity within his country as well as in the Arab world. He met with Russian President Putin in Moscow on the situation in Idlib.
As the violence continues in Idlib, a million Syrian refugees has fled from Idlib. The latest refugee crisis has the potential to create more problems for both Europe and Turkey. Hence, Turkey is trying to pressurize Europe to win some favours. This could work domestically for Mr. Erdogan. The EU believes Ankara might be able to stop the massive influx of refugees from flooding the Balkan Route as it had done in 2015-16.
India had criticized Turkey’s unilateral military action in North-western Syria and had said that Turkish action can undermine stability in the region as well as the fight against terrorism. New Delhi hopes that the power-play between Turkey and EU does not jeopardize the fate of the million plus Syrian refugees from Idlib, who are facing a catastrophic situation.
Script: Dr. Indrani Talukdar, Strategic Analyst On Russia, Cis & Turkey