Refugee Crisis Shakes Up EU-Turkey Ties
By Ilayda Ozsan
Photograph of Refugees Courtesy of Anadolu Agency
The refugee crisis has provided a new wrinkle to Turkey’s already complicated relations with the European Union. Recently, the EU urged Greece to close its borders and declared Turkey the ‘safe-zone’ for Syrian refugees. Turkey is already home for 2.5 million Syrian refugees. Turkey and Germany have agreed on a set of measures to alleviate the Syrian refugee crisis, including an initiative aiming to stop attacks against Aleppo, Syria. All actions taken by the UN, EU, NATO, and individual countries are in the efforts to curb illegal immigration. Angela Merkel, who faces her own domestic political challenges because of the refugee influx, said after discussions with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, that she was “not just appalled but horrified” by the suffering the recent Russian bombing created in Syria.
Cengiz Aktar, a Turkish political scientist with the Istanbul Policy Center, told Al Jazeera that the Russians are carpet-bombing to clean the region so that the Syrian army can push on to the Turkish border. Turkey’s government staunchly opposes Assad and does not want to see his forces reach the border. Undoubtedly, this tension would make the lives of refugees more difficult and increase the number of those seeking asylum.
Turkey is under tremendous pressure from the EU to open its border for more Syrians who have gathered along the Turkish border since the Russian bombing of Syria. The International Organization for Migration says that 374 refugees and other migrants have died so far this year while trying to reach Greece, and some are still missing. In exchange for help on the refugee issue, EU officials have offered Turkey financial assistance plus concessions on talks over eventual admission to the Union.
Some policymakers have suggested that NATO could play a role in offering a stop-gap fix. Merkel and Davutoglu will push for NATO intervention in the refugee crisis, Davutoglu said. He said they would seek the use of NATO’s observation capabilities at the border with Syria and the Aegean Sea. Since the announcement, NATO has deployed naval patrols to guard the Aegean Sea and return migrants to Turkey.
Turkey has taken some substantive steps to limit the number of migrants that move on to EU territory. Under international pressure, Turkey has started to require Syrians arriving from developing countries to apply for Turkish visas, aiming to exclude those who aim to continue on to Greece. Turkey has also agreed to grant work permits to Syrians as an incentive for them to stay in Turkey, and increased coast guard presence in the effort to decrease migration to Greece and migrant fatalities.
Going forward, the refugee crisis figures to have a broad impact. Politically, the arrival of thousands of destitute and desperate people threatens to further destabilize countries like Turkey, Greece, and Macedonia. From an economic standpoint, providing for these refugees further depletes the EU’s already weak coffers. The crisis has a security impact as well. Danger of terrorist arrivals strikes fear into the hearts of European policy-makers. Meanwhile Turkey sees a growing threat as Assad and the Kurds both gain territory in Syria. Finally, from a humanitarian perspective the refugee situation remains appallingly tragic. Despite these vast consequences, a sustainable long-term answer unfortunately seems rather far off.