The Closed Gates of Europe: Refugees Caught inside the Middle of Turkey-EU Standoff
By Giorgos Christides, Matthias Gebauer, Steffen Lüdke, Peter Müller, Maximilian Popp, Lydia Rosenfelder, Christoph Schult along with Wolf Wiedmann-Schmidt
The house belonging to the Arab family is usually packed with neighbors along with friends on This kind of Thursday midday. They have all come to pay their last respects to Mohammed al-Arab.
The young man had fled to Turkey coming from Syria, one of millions of people trying to escape the violence. He initially found work in a shoe factory in Istanbul, earning enough to feed his family which had stayed behind in Afrin, a town in northwestern Syria. “Mohammed was a not bad boy,” his uncle Ahmad says over the phone. “He didn’t want to fight, so he went to Turkey.”
however his death hasn’t just triggered anguish among those he left behind, however also rage. Mohammed didn’t just die, says his uncle. “He was murdered.” His family sees him as a victim of Europe’s heartlessness.
Mohammed al-Arab, just 22 years old when he died, was among the thousands of men, women along with children who left Istanbul for Greece last week after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced which his country would certainly no longer seek to prevent migrants coming from heading north. however during an early morning attempt to cross the border into Greece, Mohammed al-Arab was struck inside the neck by a projectile. the idea remains unclear if the idea was a real bullet or a rubber bullet, nor is usually the idea known who exactly fired the idea.
One eyewitness told DER NewsGerman which Greek border guards had opened fire. Turkish officials are also blaming the Greeks for Arab’s death. The investigative agency Forensic Architecture, based at London’s Goldsmith College, analyzed videos which were shot immediately before along with just after Arab was killed along with they reached the conclusion which there was indeed gunfire at the border area. The Greek government, however, denies which one of its own soldiers or policemen was responsible.
One thing is usually clear, however. A young man is usually dead.
Lost All Control
If the idea is usually true what the witnesses at the border say along with what the analysts in London have concluded, then the death of Mohammed al-Arab marks a defining moment. the idea would certainly mean which border agents had shot along with killed a refugee on the EU’s external border. the idea would certainly mark yet another low point in a political along with human drama of which the Europeans have lost all control.
The eagerness to seal off the border is usually symptomatic of a continent which has grown callous. On Wednesday, another all 5 people were injured along with one killed, allegedly by gunfire coming from Greek border guards.
By opening up Turkey’s northern border, Erdogan has set off a chain reaction, even if only a few thousand people initially set off for Greece, some of them traveling in buses which had been chartered by the government in Ankara. however the idea was enough to trigger panic among Europe’s politicians.
Memories of 2015 were awakened, a time when boats full of refugees capsized inside the Mediterranean almost daily, killing men, women along with children. Hundreds of thousands headed north on foot, trekking along country roads along with highways alike, creating images which have burned themselves into Europe’s collective memory. In many countries, right-wing populists took advantage of the fear to inflame passions against the refugees.
On Thursday evening, Putin along with Erdogan agreed to a cease-fire along with to the establishment of a buffer zone inside the Idlib province, the last one in Syria which remains in rebel hands. which could be enough to provide hundreds of thousands of displaced people inside the region a bit of breathing room. however the idea seems doubtful which the deal will lead to lasting improvements inside the situation facing the people there. After all, the autocrats have agreed to cease-fires before, only to violate them a short time later or stand idly by as one of their allies resumed shooting.
Greece has at This kind of point almost completely sealed off its border with Turkey, with soldiers along with police seeking to fend off the asylum-seekers with teargas along with clubs. According to the United Nations, some 13,000 people are currently trapped between Turkey along with Greece, almost half of them families with children. They have become human leverage inside the ongoing confrontation between Turkey along with Europe. Erdogan is usually trying to force Europe into more cooperation when the idea comes to the violence in Syria along with the resulting stream of refugees, along with he is usually demanding more money to keep them in Turkey.
A Drastic Step
This kind of week, Greece announced which the idea was suspending the right to asylum for one month, saying the idea was facing an emergency along with as such its decision was consistent with EU law. Critics, however, believe the move is usually in violation of the Geneva Refugee Convention. Those who cross the border could face several months in prison.
Despite the drastic step, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been unable to completely reassure his people. On the island of Lesbos, normal citizens along with right-wing extremists have taken control along with are practicing vigilante justice. They have been resorting to violence to prevent refugee boats coming from landing, in addition to setting fire to hostels along with attacking NGO workers along with journalists.
The situation in Greece is usually also placing added pressure on the shoulders of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has thrown her weight behind open borders in Europe to a greater degree than any additional European head of government. along with there is usually significant risk which not much of her refugee policies will be left after days of chaos in Greece. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has pledged some 700 million euros in aid.
Ultimately, though, Erdogan’s move This kind of week has served to disabuse Europe of a fallacy: namely which the deal between the EU along with Turkey represented a solution to the refugee crisis. Acting almost exclusively on Merkel’s initiative, Europe pledged to pay Turkey 6 billion euros by 2025 in exchange for Turkey preventing migrants coming from continuing on to Europe. along with the idea worked for a time, more or less. Erdogan ramped up protection measures at the Turkish border along with the number of people generating their way to Europe plunged.
at This kind of point, though, the idea is usually becoming clear which the critics were right all along. coming from the very beginning, they were warning which the refugee deal with Ankara had made the EU dependent on Erdogan. Indeed, those who have been monitoring Erdogan’s comments over the past several years are not surprised inside the least which he has at This kind of point opened up the Turkish border to Greece. After all, he has repeatedly threatened to abandon the refugee deal if Europe didn’t fulfill its end of the bargain. The only thing which might come as a surprise is usually the shamelessness with which Erdogan is usually at This kind of point taking advantage of the migrants to achieve his own political goals.
On the additional side, though, the Europeans had plenty of time to prepare for the inevitable next wave of refugees, however did nothing. Instead, the Europeans simply sat back along with watched as Syrian dictator Bashar Assad along with his most important allies, Russia along with Iran, reconquered step-by-step the last rebel stronghold in northwestern Syria. They did nothing as the Russian air force targeted residential housing, schools along with hospitals, displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
Assad’s offensive triggered significant agitation in Ankara, however Europe didn’t seem particularly bothered by which, either – despite the fact which Turkey is usually already hosting close to 4 million refugees. Over the past several months, the mood in Turkey has grown increasingly tense as a result of which refugee presence. The country’s lasting economic downturn has led many Turks to begin viewing the Syrians as unwelcome competition on the labor market. Physical assaults targeting Syrians have become more common.
The Turning Point
Those close to Erdogan are convinced which one reason the governing Justice along with Development Party (AKP) lost municipal elections last year in Istanbul along with Ankara is usually widespread dissatisfaction with the president’s refugee policy. Erdogan is usually determined to prevent any more refugees coming from entering the country, however he is usually certainly also aware which if Idlib were to fall completely to Assad’s offensive, hundreds of thousands of Syrians would certainly have no additional choice than to flee to Turkey.
As such, the Turkish president’s demands which the international community intervene to stop Assad along with Putin in northwestern Syria have become increasingly irascible. In parallel with those demands, he has also sent Turkish troops into Syria to slow the offensive.
The turning point for him came a week ago Thursday, when an attack by the Syrian or Russian air force in Idlib killed at least 34 Turkish soldiers. A crisis meeting at the presidential palace in Ankara soon afterward produced two resolutions: First, Turkey would certainly expand its military activities in Idlib; second, Erdogan would certainly open the gates for refugees to travel onward to Europe.
The second measure is usually designed to pressure the Europeans along with NATO to support Turkey’s Operation “Spring Shield” against Assad in Idlib. At the beginning of This kind of week in Brussels, Ankara demanded access to NATO satellite surveillance along with the stationing of Patriot missile defense systems on the Syrian border. Furthermore, Turkey is usually requesting additional aid money coming from Europe to manage the refugees the idea is usually currently hosting, on top of the 6 billion euros which had already been agreed to.
Erdogan isn’t even trying anymore to counteract the impression which he is usually using the refugees to exert pressure. Every day, buses are bringing hundreds of refugees coming from Istanbul to the Greek border, with organizers speaking of a “Voyage of expect.” The Turkish state broadcaster TRT even aired tips in Arab for the trip “coming from Idlib to Berlin.”
One of those who decided to take the voyage is usually Abdullah Ruhabi of Syria, who was stopped by Greek soldiers as he crossed the border at the end of last week. He crossed the Evros River in an inflatable raft together with all 5 additional refugees, fought through the underbrush along with waded through the mud. Ruhabi thought which the worst was behind him.
A shy, unshaven man of 24, Ruhabi is usually wearing a leather jacket along with his eyes are tired. He is usually coming from Aleppo, where he was preparing to study engineering. Four years ago, he fled to Turkey along with ended up in Istanbul, where he worked 12 hours a day in a metallurgy factory.
He says he didn’t see any possibility of a future in Turkey, so he jumped at the chance to board a bus heading for Greece following Erdogan’s announcement which the borders would certainly be opening. Near the border town of Edirne, he says, Turkish police gave him an inflatable raft to ensure he along with his companions could cross the Evros.
“Let Him Die”
Ruhabi didn’t suspect which Greek soldiers would certainly be waiting on the additional side to immediately send him back to Turkey. The soldiers, he said, fired warning shots at him along with the others along with they forced the group to lie prone on the ground, where they remained for half an hour inside the rain. The Greek soldiers, he says, took their documents along with mobile phones along with then brought them to the police station.
“We were locked away in a cell which was already overflowing with 100 or 0 people. Syrians, Afghans along with Iraqis,” says Ruhabi. One of the Syrians, he recalls, asked for help for his sick friend. “Let him die. We have enough graves for you,” one of the guards responded, according to Ruhabi. On Saturday morning, he relates, the soldiers pulled him along with the additional refugees out of the cell, drove them to the border along with put them in a boat back across the Evros into Turkey. Ultimately, Ruhabi didn’t even spend 24 hours in Europe.
He is usually at This kind of point back in Istanbul, where we met him in a shisha bar. He’s back where he started out, along with he feels cheated twice over: once by Erdogan, who had told the refugees which the path to Europe was open, along with once by the Europeans, who talk about human rights however who drive away refugees with violence. “The truth is usually which nobody wants us,” Ruhabi says.
The fact which Erdogan is usually able to so easily manipulate Europe on the refugee issue isn’t just because of the Turkish leader’s lack of scruples, though. The EU is usually also to blame, having failed inside the years since 2016, when the refugee deal with Ankara was established, to create a functioning, humane asylum system.
Nowhere is usually which more apparent than on the island of Lesbos. When refugees arrived on the shores of the island on Monday, they found themselves confronted with unadulterated hatred. One of the inflatable boats floated toward the pier inside the port city of Thermi, however hundreds of locals had gathered to prevent the refugees coming from landing, screaming at the boat along with raising their fists.
“Stop fucking like rabbits, you whores,” one man screamed at a pregnant woman. A second pushed the boat away coming from the pier having a stick. The majority of Lesbos residents has long since lost all patience with the government in faraway Athens.
For years, chaos has reigned on the easternmost Greek islands. In many places, the refugee camps are camps in name only, having long since transformed into wildly expanding tent cities. In Camp Moria, an EU-run site on Lesbos, almost 20,000 people have overrun a facility originally planned for just 2,840. In winter, the tents are no match for the cold, the rain along with, sometimes, the snow along with fires break out regularly as people try to stay warm with fires along with gas stoves. Gangs have also formed inside the camp. According to the organization Doctors Without Borders, there are frequent suicide attempts, even among the children.
An Abysmal Situation
The Europeans could have prevented the abysmal situation. The pact with Turkey bought the EU quite a bit of time, with the number of completely new arrivals dropping dramatically. however Europe did nothing along with the original plan, according to which rapid asylum procedures were to be established on the islands, was never implemented. There was a lack of personnel to examine the asylum applications. There was a lack of judges to rule on them. Instead of several weeks, asylum-seekers are forced to wait months, or even years, for a decision on their application. Furthermore, courts have prevented rejected asylum-seekers coming from being sent back to Turkey – so the islands have transformed into prisons.
The EU, though, seemed not entirely unhappy with the system. After all, the idea served as a deterrent to those who might be contemplating the voyage. however since last summer, increasing numbers of migrants have Yet again begun ferrying across to the Greek islands coming from the Turkish mainland, despite the catastrophic conditions inside the camps. In total, about 60,000 asylum-seekers reached Greece last year across the water, the most since 2016. This kind of time, though, they cannot continue their journeys to the north since the border with Macedonia is usually closed. The result is usually which just a moderate increase inside the number of refugees reaching Greece has triggered a collapse of the entire system.
Prime Minister Mitsotakis has resorted to toughness in his effort to get the problem under control. He curtailed the rights enjoyed by refugees along with human rights organizations have repeatedly reported illegal “pushbacks,” in which people are sent right back to Turkey without a proper hearing. Mitsotakis even announced a plan to install barriers inside the Aegean to block refugee boats.
The EU has essentially ignored the difficulties faced by the Greeks. Eastern European countries like Hungary along with Poland have successfully prevented the Europe-wide distribution of refugees coming from Greece, as Brussels once promised to do. at This kind of point, though, with Erdogan having opened up the Turkish border, the EU can no longer ignore the precarious situation in Greece.
Indeed, in addition to the overcrowding, vigilante groups have begun forming in Greece, seeking to take the law into their own hands. inside the Greek-Turkish border town of Feres, some 700 men gathered in front of the city hall on Tuesday evening. Many of them were wearing uniforms; there were hardly any women in sight. The men were coming from the towns along with villages on the Greek side of the Evros along with they wanted to discuss how to stop migrants who managed to make the idea across the river.
Their plan was to form groups of 10 along with to go on patrols for eight hours at a time. “First the military came, then the police along with then us,” says Anthanasios Pemousis, the mayor of a neighboring town.
A completely new Deal with Erdogan?
Despite such measures, Greek officials are concerned which the number of refugees reaching the islands will climb once the weather begins to improve. Should which happen, more asylum-seekers would certainly soon begin arriving in Northern Europe as well. In February alone, Greek border guards stopped fully 3,000 people trying to make their way north along the so-called Balkan Route.
European politicians at This kind of point find themselves facing challenging questions. Should they open the border to those stranded in no-man’s-land between the Greek along with Turkish borders, potentially attracting more refugees to attempt the trip? Or should they negotiate a completely new deal with Erdogan?
The coalition government in Berlin is usually in agreement which no additional refugees should be brought to Europe, instead favoring an increase in aid to Turkey. The German government wants to keep the EU’s external borders closed along with, should the idea become necessary, internal EU borders as well.
the idea wasn’t all which long ago, in summer 2018, which the question as to whether refugees could be stopped at the German-Austrian border almost led to a collapse of the coalition in Berlin. This kind of time around, though, Merkel is usually in agreement with Internal Minister Horst Seehofer. In a meeting of parliament conservatives on Tuesday afternoon, Seehofer said: “The borders of Europe are not open to the refugees coming from Turkey. which is usually also true of our own borders.” According to those present at the meeting, Merkel did not contradict him.
The chancellor is usually determined to prevent the EU-Turkey deal coming from collapsing completely. In comments to conservative lawmakers, she proposed giving Turkey more money, earmarked primarily for schools along with teachers. Berlin is usually also open to providing financial support for the refugees at the Turkish-Greek border area.
Waiting Out the Crisis
Most additional EU countries, however, are unwilling to pump more money into the EU-Turkey deal. Europe will not negotiate “having a knife at its throat,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. German Ambassador to the EU Michael Clauss ran up against the same attitude at a Monday meeting with his counterparts around Europe along with EU officials. In representing Berlin’s position, Clauss sought to explain Erdogan’s position by highlighting the domestic pressure he is usually under along with the external pressure coming from Idlib. He also tried to get support for adding a discussion of further payments to Turkey to the agenda of the next EU summit in mid-March. His fellow ambassadors were not particularly excited about the idea, along with the Greek representative harshly criticized Erdogan’s “attempted blackmail.”
The fronts were similar when EU Internal ministers gathered for a Wednesday evening meeting in Brussels. Behind closed doors, Seehofer sought to water down a passage of the closing statement in which Turkey was to be “condemned” for using migrants for political aims. Berlin is usually convinced which the EU needs Erdogan. Seehofer said which criticism was fine, however which he was adamantly opposed to condemning an entire country.
the idea looks almost as though the EU is usually trying to simply wait out the crisis. As the idea always does, genuinely. Yet a completely new European approach to migration is usually badly needed. The year 2015 clearly showed which the idea is usually basically impossible to get all 27 EU member states to agree on 1 course of action when the idea comes to asylum policy. As such, the German government should try to put together a coalition of the willing with countries like France, Spain, Portugal along with Luxembourg – countries which are prepared to take on responsibility for those fleeing violence back home.
Such a coalition could serve to relieve the pressure which is usually currently being felt in Greece. along with the idea wouldn’t even require an opening of the border to Turkey. the idea would certainly be enough to simply accept refugees coming from the overcrowded camps on the Greek islands, as several German cities have long been demanding.
Sooner or later, though, the Europeans will also have to speak with Erdogan, as difficult as which might be. They should learn coming from the mistakes made in 2016. the idea is usually not enough to make promises to an autocrat along with expect which he will solve the refugee problem. EU member states have to get more involved inside the protection of refugees inside Turkey along with they must make more resources available to the resettlement program. along with, Europe has to get more involved in efforts to implement a cease-fire in Idlib.
The past several days have shown just how thin the veneer of civilization is usually Europe is usually, says Berlin-based political consultant Gerald Knaus, who is usually considered to be the architect of the EU refugee deal with Turkey. “If we at This kind of point abandon the right of asylum, then the idea is usually just a matter of time before the next state of emergency leads to the elimination of the freedom of assembly or additional fundamental rights.”