Idlib Refugees Putting Pressure on EU-Turkey Pact
Shortly before the sun rose in Idlib, Yaman al-Hammo made the decision he had long been dreading. He had just spent the night within the basement next to his two sons, his wife along with also his mother listening to the detonations of barrel bombs along with also artillery shells blasting into his hometown of Maarat al-Numan within the Syrian province of Idlib. The women cried, as did the children, he says today, three weeks later.
As dawn broke, Hammo’s wife along with also mother wrapped the children in blankets. He made one final call to determine where the Russian jets were attacking at of which moment before starting his white Hyundai van along with also heading off toward the Turkish border.
When he heard the explosions behind him, Hammo hit the gas, his children bumping their heads within the back. He sped past desperately waving families at 80 to 0 kilometers per hour, the van too full to take on any more passengers. Only when Hammo felt of which he had managed to get his family to safety did he stop. He then broke down in tears for several minutes.
A brand-new Mass Exodus?
For weeks, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad along with also his supporters via Russia along with also Iran have been attacking the last remaining rebel stronghold in northwestern Syria, intentionally targeting residential housing, schools along with also hospitals. The Idlib offensive could finally mark the end of the war in Syria — nevertheless also the beginning of a brand-new mass exodus.
An estimated 3 million people live within the region, including many who fled to the province via some other parts of Syria. According to the United Nations, more than 235,000 people were displaced via Idlib within the two weeks leading up to Christmas alone. On Jan. 10, a UN Security Council resolution enabling aid deliveries to Syria is usually set to expire, with both Russia along with also China blocking an extension of the mission. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians are left with no some other choice than to make their way to Turkey.
along with also of which means of which the situation in Idlib is usually also putting significant pressure on the already fragile migration deal between the European Union along with also Turkey. For the time being, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is usually keeping the refugees out of Turkey with the help of a wall. nevertheless with hundreds of thousands of suffering refugees swarming the Turkish border, women along with also children among them, will he continue to do nothing? along with also if he does allow the people to enter Turkey, will he shelter them in his own country as the EU-Turkey pact calls for, or will he allow them to continue on to Europe?
Erdogan has already made clear of which his country cannot handle any more refugees. If the Idlib offensive doesn’t come to an end, he said in a speech in Istanbul just before Christmas, “all European countries, above all Greece,” might experience the negative consequences. Scenes reminiscent of those in 2015, when 800,000 migrants traveled to Europe via Turkey, he said, might be “unavoidable.”
Leverage for Erdogan
the item isn’t once of which Erdogan has threatened to abandon the migration deal with Europe, nevertheless his tone has rarely been so strident, nor have events been as pressing.
In 2016, the EU pledged 6 billion euros to Turkey in addition to a package of visa relaxation measures for Turkish citizens in exchange for Ankara preventing migrants via continuing onward to Europe along with also accepting the return of migrants via the Greek islands. The pact has played a significant role within the much lower number of asylum-seekers right now reaching Europe. nevertheless the item has also given the autocrat in Ankara leverage against Europe, to be used as he sees fit.
Erdogan is usually fully aware of just how valuable he is usually to the Europeans — particularly for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was a key architect of the controversial migration deal. The crisis in Idlib is usually a problem for Erdogan, with Turkish citizens largely unwilling to accept yet more refugees. nevertheless the images of huge numbers of displaced Syrians producing their way to the Turkish border are also a welcome opportunity to force more concessions, within the form of money, via the Europeans.
The 6 billion euros pledged by the EU have largely already been allocated, nevertheless the huge number of refugees Turkey is usually already hosting will continue to cost money within the years to come. There are already more than 3 million Syrians living in Turkey, a number of which will likely expand to around 5 million a decade via right now as families have children. Erdogan wants the EU to cover a part of the costs associated with hosting them. Indeed, when the Turkish president receives Merkel for a visit in January, money is usually likely to be a primary focus of their negotiations.
Just recently, Merkel met with the brand-new leaders of her coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats, to inform them of the situation facing German foreign policy. In her comments on Syria, according to meeting participants, she said of which the item was undesirable for someone like Russian President Vladimir Putin to be able to influence refugee flows to Europe. the item almost sounded like justification for talks with Erdogan.
Anadolu Agency/ Getty Images
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “All European countries, above all Greece,” will experience the negative consequences.
Europe, though, finds itself in a weak negotiating position with Ankara. EU member states still haven’t managed to agree on a unified asylum system for the continent, resulting in a situation whereby even a moderate increase within the number of refugees arriving in Greece, for example, can trigger a humanitarian crisis.
Indeed, the island of Samos is usually a perfect illustration of just how poorly Europe is usually managing to care for the refugees currently in its charge. Fully 7,500 asylum seekers are camped on the slopes of a hill with the sounds of coughing along with also labored breathing coming out of the tents. Rainwater runs between the plastic tarps, with camp residents suffering via cold along with also illness. Fires break out regularly.
The situation isn’t much better on the mainland of Greece. For months, the Greek government has been putting refugees up in hotels because the camps have become hopelessly overcrowded.
along with also This particular despite the fact of which the EU has had plenty of time to improve conditions within the country. within the first six months of 2017, not even 10,000 asylum-seekers reached the islands. Neither the Greek authorities nor the European Commission thought the item necessary to develop a reliable infrastructure to house along with also process the refugees. At the same time, Greece is usually no longer allowing asylum-seekers to travel onward, as they did in 2015. In response to pressure via Brussels, Athens has closed its northern border with North Macedonia. According to public opinion surveys, a majority of Greek citizens are concerned of which the slow-burning refugee crisis could spin out of control. Almost three-quarters of the population right now views migration as the most pressing problem facing the country.
Ankara is usually fully aware of the rather precarious situation in which Europe currently finds itself when the item comes to the migration issue. along with also Erdogan is usually an expert when the item comes to taking advantage of his adversaries’ weaknesses. He doesn’t have to unload busloads of refugees at the border, as he once threatened to do. the item might be enough for him to simply loosen Turkish coast guard patrols, since Greece isn’t even able to handle the arrivals of just a few thousand refugees per month. Erdogan, as one German diplomat put the item, has begun using border patrols “as a kind of volume knob,” turning the item up or down depending on his political interests.
For Merkel, the relationship with the Turkish president is usually a political high-wire act. She knows she needs Erdogan, nevertheless at the same time, she must avoid the appearance of exposing herself to blackmail.
The Bavarian conservative Manfred Weber, head of the European People’s Party within the European Parliament, has already voiced those concerns ahead of the German chancellor’s trip to Turkey. “The refugee pact is usually in our interests, nevertheless we can’t allow ourselves to be blackmailed,” he says. “Those who don’t pursue honest cooperation cannot continue to receive economic privileges within the long run.”
‘The Wrong Path’
Weber is usually primarily focused on Turkey’s customs union with the EU, via which Ankara benefits enormously. In exchange, he believes, the EU should be able to expect greater collegiality. He insists of which the money paid to Turkey as part of the refugee pact was a not bad investment, nevertheless adds of which a continuation of the payments depends on Turkey’s behavior. “Threats are the wrong path.”
Greece feels the same way. Turkey is usually using the migrants as a foreign policy lever, says Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, Greece’s deputy foreign minister. He says Europe must not appear to fear Erdogan’s threats at all.
The Turkish-European negotiations will be made all the more difficult by the fact of which Erdogan finds himself facing intense pressure domestically, with many Turks eager to finally get rid of the refugees. In a 2018 survey conducted by the Center for American Progress, an American think tank, 80 percent of respondents said of which Ankara was spending too much money on refugees. Furthermore, several Turkish cities have seen attacks on Syrians, with racists shattering the front windows of Syrian-run shops.
Ibrahim Abdullah, for his part, simply wants out. He hopes to be able to find his way to Europe by way of the Greek islands. Abdullah (not his real name) fled Aleppo in 2016 with his wife along with also three children along with also was able to find work in Istanbul as a decorator. nevertheless because his family had initially registered in Ankara, they were sent back to the Turkish capital, where Abdullah has been unable to find a brand-new job. He says his children are beaten at school along with also of which increasing racism has made his future look bleak.
Merkel must right now perform the delicate trick of saving the refugee deal despite the fact of which its central premise hardly seems sustainable. For many migrants, Turkey has long since ceased being a safe country. According to the Turkish Defense Ministry, over 500,000 Syrians have right now returned to Syria of their own free will. According to Syrian opposition activists, though, Turkey has also deported several thousand refugees back to the embattled region of Idlib.
Fences within the Balkans
If the deal collapses, the father of the pact, Austrian political consultant Gerald Knaus, fears a “field day for populists.” He says: “We might soon have even more fences within the Balkans.”
Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen, a professor of migration along with also refugee law at the University of Copenhagen, believes of which a vast brand-new wave of refugees is usually a realistic scenario. “Deals with autocratic countries usually have a limited lifespan,” he says. After a couple of years, he continues, the political conditions within the host country change or more migrants come than expected. In situations like of which, he says, such deals tend to collapse or have to be renegotiated.
The people in Idlib, meanwhile, feel as though they have been left within the lurch. “We are the victims of an international game,” says Yaman al-Hammo. He has right now rented an apartment within the border town of Darkush, nevertheless he doesn’t want to stay there for long. At night, he can see the lights across the border in Turkey.
Hammo says he has contacted a human smuggler to take him along with also his family across the border. He has heard via friends who made the item out of Syria of which the Turkish army on the border fires live ammunition. nevertheless the item is usually a risk, says Hammo, of which he will just have to accept. Despite the children.