On February 28,opened its borders with the European Union in the wake of the death of 34 Turkish soldiers in . In response, Greece and Bulgaria stepped their border protections, insisting that they would not admit any Syrian fleeing the civil war. In the meantime, the EU called on Ankara to uphold the 2016 EU- agreement to curb migration into Europe.
International Organization for Migration puts the number of waiting at ’s Pazarkule border crossing with Greece at around 13,000 at the start of March. Greek officials said on March 2 that a Syrian child drowned when a boat capsized off the Greek island of Lesbos.announced on March 1 that it would no longer prevent from leaving its country. While Ankara claims that around 80,000 have already left, the
Turkey Joins the Scramble for the Middle East
Ankara’s determination to keep the border open despite the risk to human life is yet another example ofbeing used as bargaining chips. Having failed to persuade Russia to convince the Syrian regime to withdraw to the Sochi ceasefire line, Turkish policymakers and pro-government commentators recently called on the EU and NATO for help.
At the moment, it is difficult to predict whether the movement ofto the EU’s external borders will trigger a crisis comparable to 2015, when at least 1 million migrants crossed into Europe. The question demanding immediate attention lies elsewhere. It should be no surprise that Ankara uses to further its foreign policy ambitions. has been increasingly doing this since 2012, especially against the EU following the March 2016 agreement on formal cooperation over migration control. Ankara’s deployment of as a bargaining chip with the European Union is, in fact, a direct outcome of the EU’s externalization policies.
published a map showing possible paths for to reach Europe.currently appears strikingly indifferent to the possibility of being blamed by the international community for triggering a humanitarian crisis, which is certainly on the cards given the EU’s determination to keep out and the poor conditions of refugee camps on the Greek islands. In one stark example of this attitude, the Turkish public news channel TRT Arabic
Distracting From Foreign Policy Failures
Ankara’s indifference should motivate policymakers in Europe to ponder over’s lack of capacity to strategize its medium- to long-term foreign policy goals. Turkish foreign policy, especially in , has been a series of tactics devoid of a coherent strategy. As the case of clearly demonstrates, tactics may postpone problems but cannot solve them.
Clashes between the Turkish military andgovernment forces backed by Russia and Iran have escalated since December 2019. This was arguably inevitable given ’s misreading of the nature of its relationship with Russia and its unwillingness to relinquish its maximalist position of holding onto as leverage to keep other areas in under its control, including Afrin and between Ras-al-Ayn and Tal Abyad).
The extensive coverage by pro-government media ofrushing to the land and sea borders should also be interpreted against this backdrop of short-sighted foreign policy. The focus on leaving is intended to divert attention away from the death of Turkish soldiers. It also allows the Turkish government to mobilize public support amidst increasingly negative sentiment toward across the political spectrum.
On March 1, for instance, homes and businesses ofin Maras, , were attacked by local residents. On February 28, Tanju Ozcan, the mayor of Bolu from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), announced that the municipality would organize free transport to Edirne, a Turkish city near the borders with Bulgaria and Greece. Similarly, some bus companies call the rides from Istanbul Esenler bus station to the border cities the “journey of hope.”
Does the EU Have Options?
In Idlib, Ankara insists on holding onto the areas that are currently under its control and possibly connecting these with a “safe zone” along the– border. Such a safe zone would not only host internally displaced persons (IDP), but it might also help ‘s repatriation efforts, so Ankara seems to believe. In other words, opening the borders to the European Union for refugees is a tactical move to pressure the EU to support in Idlib.
Significantly, 900,000 people from their homes, 500,000 of them children. For some, this has been the sixth or seventh displacement since the civil war in Syria began in 2011. Tens of thousands of people currently live in makeshift tents, public buildings and out in the open. Another 200,000 people are expected to leave soon. Moreover, if were to fall in the hands of the Syrian regime, violent repression would be inevitable.is committed to keeping the – border closed to IDPs from Idlib. Since December 1, 2019, fighting in the last remaining Syrian opposition stronghold has forced at least
Preventing this unfolding humanitarian disaster is an ethical obligation. It is undeniable that Ankara, as one of the central actors, lacks commitment to democratic norms and values.cloaks its foreign and domestic policy objectives in humanitarian talk, but it does not hesitate to violate humanitarian principles.
Yet the humanitarian reality on the ground requires the support of the international community. The EU should intervene in coordination with NATO to bring mass-scale humanitarian assistance to IDPs in Idlib. This could forceto pull back from its maximalist position of retaining control in Idlib and provide protection to civilians against the aggression of the regime. The European Union could make a possible coordinated intervention conditional on restoring the provisions of the 2016 EU- agreement.
*[The German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) advises the German government and Bundestag on all questions related to foreign and security policy. This article was first published on the SWP website.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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