The latest refugee crisis has caught the EU completely off guard. They did not anticipate that Ankara would open its doors to the refugees that Brussels have effectively paid them to keep away from their lands but now, apparently because of a ‘financial oversight’, the gates are open. But is there more to this story? Christos Mouzeviris investigates.
On March the 3rd, the European and Greek leadership flew over the Greek-Turkish border which included the river Evros, to review the dire situation that has developed there since the previous weekend. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan decided to allow, if not accommodate, tens of thousands or migrants to reach Turkey’s borders with Greece. He had initially a multi-billion euro deal with the EU since 2016, in order to maintain refugee camps in his country but that deal has now expired or annulled according to some by Erdogan. Europe, draped in its internal problems after Brexit, was slow to renew and reassure the Turkish government of its support and intentions.
The deal is off – spectacularly
Turkey is home to around four million refugees, most of them from Syria but also from South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. However, with the involvement of Turkey in the Syrian conflict and the recent loss of thirty three of their soldiers, the country’s leadership became agitated and desperate in the lack of progress of their goals in the region. They sought a push back to create a buffer zone within Syria in order to resettle the refugees there, however by doing so they are placing them in a war zone, in which Russia and other regional powers are also involved. So in other words, due to Turkish internal issues on migration, the war in Syria and the increasing regional instability, Mr Erdogan decided to blackmail Europe by using the refugees. As result, those thousands or even millions of desperate people have become once again useful victims of someone else’s interests.
Greece on the other hand has its own very problems. The country is still recovering from a decade long economic crisis, in addition to being for the same length of time, one of the main entry points of refugees. In 2019 alone, Greece has accepted 60,000 migrants from Turkey and is currently processing 125,000 refugee applications. It has announced that for the time being, it won’t be accepting further applications, despite condemnation from UNHCR. Currently, there are around 42,000 refugees stranded on the islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos, which is around a quarter of the region’s population.
The islands have become “human dustbins,” as many have put it. With migrants are becoming increasingly desperate and often aggressive towards the locals, but mainly to each other, criminality in the camps is high, but also desperation and human deprivation is rampant. There have been numerous condemnations by various NGOs on how Greece is handling the situation and partially they are right. Perhaps Greece should have allocated the migrants into the mainland sooner but then it would have replaced Turkey as a refugee ghetto. But what about the rest of Europe?
Germany has announced that it won’t be accepting any more refugee applications, after they allowed almost 1 million people into their country. Some other countries from central and eastern Europe are refusing to take migrants in at all, in fear or eroding their European heritage and Christendom. Britain decided to jump the ship and control its own borders post Brexit and in the rest of Europe, governments are struggling to keep the far-right at bay, so the threat of millions of new migrants entering the continent will make it even harder to maintain a centrist, pro-European ruling elite in our continent.
Front line crisis
So, Greece and Turkey are forced to deal with the problem by themselves, with European handouts as a help. No wonder the situation between them reached a turning point. Now, the crisis has spread to their mainland border and the river Evros in particular which has become the bottleneck. After Erdogan’s announcement, nearly 15,000 migrants attempted to enter Greece, allegedly assisted by Turkish officials who often, as reports from Greece have it, were driving them into the border and assisting them. According to Turkish interior minister Suleyman Soylu, another 76,000 are on the way.
Greek border security responded by firing teargasses towards the refugees, while Turkish agents were allegedly cutting the barbed wires to create openings for them to cross into the West. There have been reports of numerous sightings of Turkish boats assisting the crossing of refugees into the Greek isles, prompting the Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis to openly refer to the state of Turkey as a “smuggler”, during his address to the EU leadership.
The Greek islanders who in 2015 were overwhelmingly welcoming towards the migrants, are now exhausted by the situation. Many videos have emerged showing a very different attitude towards the new arrivals, calling the refugees insulting names and asking them to “go back” and pushing their boats away from land. In addition, most worryingly, there have been riots on the islands by locals, who are allegedly trying to prevent the Greek government from building new refugee centres there. During these riots, there has been a great amount of violence between the islanders and the Greek police.
The climate in Greece is that of fear, desperation, anger and anxiety. The government is sending troops and reinforces towards the borders and is also ready to call upon its army reserves if in need to handle the situation. The press is not making the situation any easier with a lot of propaganda in all sides, with many trying to win the hearts of the public or spread fear and misinformation among them. Turkish media portray Greece or Europe as the problem while many journalists in Greece are portraying the situation as an attempt of Turkey to “destroy Greece”, inciting the old nationalist animosity between the two countries.
Others that are more empathetic towards the migrants and especially those affiliated to various NGOs, are portraying the locals who object to the new migrant centres as “racists” or “nationalists”, conveniently turning a blind eye to the dire, unworkable situation in the region. They of course are trying to help the refugees and the human cause behind this tragedy, but who will ever understand the needs of the locals, both from Greece and Turkey? For someone living in the north or western part of Europe, all this is just a story in the news, miles away from their residence. If they tried to live with this reality for five years, they may be able to relate better, especially when any judgement comes from the press in Europe, a continent that is repeatedly is refusing to listen to its people.
The rise of the far-right across Europe is either we like it or not is a clear sign, a wake-up call, that a large number of its population is increasingly rejecting the arrival of great numbers of immigrants. However, Europe, caught up in its own dogma, complexes and guilt by its own past, is trying too hard to prove itself as a beacon of human rights, as it should. Yet that can never be achieved if it does not have the support of its own people. This is a dangerous weakness that is being exploited by third parties like Turkey. In order to achieve their goals and either force Europe to pay up or support the Turkish cause in Syria against perhaps that of Russia, Erdogan is clearly blackmailing the Brussels.
A world wide problem
And the Turks are not the only ones. The refugee crisis is not a Turkish, a Greek, nor a European problem – it is a world problem. Europe has promised Turkey six billion euro in order to encourage the Turks to “swallow the pill” and take the burden of the situation. Now they are offering Greece 700 million euro, most likely to do the same. Yet, Europe lacks the leadership to convince other rich nations and blocks such as the USA, Canada, Japan, Russia, China, Australia, Israel, South Korea, the Arab League, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and many countries that got involved in this conflict or have assisted US and NATO operations in the region previously, to also take responsibility.
They are conveniently turning a blind eye and have left Europe to deal with this mess. Thus, the refugee crisis has become a European headache that could spell, if not treated immediately, the end of the EU as we know it. We could rest assured that many that want this to happen are seeing to this.
If Brussels had already agreed to a common defence mechanism and a more effective Frontex, the situation on the Greek but also the Bulgarian borders, which are European ones, would not be as desperate. They could have helped to defend and secure them, but above all reassure the public that Europe is doing something about it and is there for them.
In addition, if they could all agree in spreading the refugees equally among them, or establish a common immigration policy to encourage seasonal, legal immigration into Europe, we could potentially have avoided all this. But sadly, European leaders prefer to squabble, to our competitors’ delight.