29 October 2019

Refugee crisis strikes again

Ştefan Oprea

Conflicts, violence, human rights’ breach, persecution and natural disasters are pushing millions of people to leave their homes seeking for protection and assistance offered by local authorities, communities and humanitarian organizations. Their survival depends on organizations’ possibility to find lasting solutions, on the national legislation, the political circumstances etc.

Image source: Mediafax

From this point of view, Europe, the main target of the global migration phenomenon, despite the conceptual and financial efforts to stop migration, it can hardly come up with an agenda to address the issue. The current situation in Europe is the inevitable consequence of the unsolved crises in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan and are all connected to these states’ collapse, as results of the internal war the West is mainly responsible for.

The refugees’ wave, marked by the dramatic image of thousands of Syrians trying to get to Germany through Hungary, was, in 2015, mistaken to mass migration.

Refugees’ crisis, Syria’s war unassailable results, makes EU face a significant flux of Syrian refugees and endless discussion on refugees’ quota for the member states, however, ignoring, at the same time, the causes of their suffering. Indeed, the cause is the disrupted Middle East (a situation wherefore the West has its own fault in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria), but also actors like Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirates, states which are increasing the fights between the opposed groups in the region. We must mention that the latter have sponsored the rebellious groups in different phases of the crisis situation with weapons and money, instead of encouraging a peace consolidation process in Syria.

An analytical approach reveals that:

- the war in Syria, started in 2011, turned immediately into a war by proxy between the states in the region;

-The West has encouraged foreign fighters’ afflux at the Turkish border, accordingly with its Sunni allies- Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to take down the Assad government, to realize, then, that this policy has actually strengthen the Islamic State;

- the voluntary destabilization of the Assad regime has created the boomerang effect, whose consequences can be seen in the emergence of jihadists, who have invaded the refugees’ wave to destabilize Europe (especially that the West has learned so little from the American and Russian experience in the fight with mujaddehins in Afghanistan).

-Islamic State’s growth and enlargement has created a huge number of refugees, including Christians and Yazidis, in North of Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon (a country that’s concerned with keeping its sensitive political and ethnic balance) and in Jordan (that has limited resources);

-Turkey plays a great role in managing the so-called “refugees’ crisis” in the Middle East region and East of the Mediterranean Sea, doing its best to address the issue on its own, although pressured by EU and the international community;

An analysis of Turkey’s strategy on this matter reveals that, initially, the generous hospitality proved to be a great strategic move to ease the collapse of Assad’s regime and its allies. Therefore, Turkey’s main interest was stopping Kurds’ wave (who were threatening to incite the Kurdish nationalism from Turkey), bigger and bigger at its border, at Caliphate’s defeat expense. Thus, Ankara’s policy on the Islamic State was ambiguous from the very beginning, as the Turks have been circumspect in discouraging the jihadists of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, easing (by ignoring it), at the same time, foreign fighters’ entry in Syria and Iraq though its borders. Hereof war’s intensification. Consequently, Turkey, having many unsolved internal issues, was not planning on fighting the Islamic State, except for the case wherein the conflict would have involved its real enemy, PKK, a paramilitary organization that wants Kurdistan to become an independent state.

Refugees’ crisis in Turkey is as old as the Syrian civil war. Starting from a group of 252 Syrian refugees that got to Turkey in 2011, their number has increased a lot for the past few years (140.000 in 2012, 412.000 in 2013, 1.062.000 in 2014 and 881.000 in 2015), reaching really concerning rates.

The 2015 and 2016 terrorist attacks pushed Turkey to limit the access on their national territory and close its border, leaving many Syrian people on the other side of the border, in improvised camps, claiming desperately to get in the Turkish territory. Ankara’s decision to build a security barrier along its border with Syria is one of the adopted restrictive measures and aims at decreasing the number of Syrian refugees (352.000 in 2016, 569.000 in 2017 and 198.000 in 2018).

On the surface, one may say that Turkey was facing a great number of refugees and that it is struggling to solve its issues on its own. Unfortunately, Turkey is not the only actor involved.

The consequence of these measures will be bouncing off Europe, and a large refugees’ wave  has already came to its doors, proving, once more, that Syria is a huge instability focus, not only for the Middle East, but also for the West.

It is obvious that EU is paying for the long term consequences of Turkey externalizing its refugee’s issue. In March 2016, EU has signed a controversial agreement with Turkey, which stopped a great part of the refugees flux to Europe in the exchange of a financial package, worth of 6 billion euro, making Turkey pose like a “third safe country” which respects refugees’ rights…etc.

The estimation errors, ambiguities, contradictions and the sudden political approach changes are forcing the European leaders to admit that the current crisis situation is the result of the huge geopolitical mistake, made at the beginning of the Syrian insurrection, in March 2011.

However, today, the situation is as problematic as in 2015, when one million refugees “showed up” at Europe’s doors. Trump’s decision (October 6th) to withdraw the American troops from the area was followed by a huge Turkish military operation to create a security zone, so long-awaited and unaccomplished yet, along the Turkish-Syrian border,  to shelter the thousands of refugees that are now in Turkey. President Erdogan’s threats to send millions of Syrian refugees in Europe if he will be sanctioned or criticized for his military intervention in North-East Syria are trustable enough.

Although the purpose of this article is not analyzing the consequences of Ankara’s decisions and modifying the geopolitical games, we must mention that, although during the civil war in Syria country’s border remained the same, the demographic situation at the border with Turkey changed dramatically. If, at the beginning of the war, the Kurdish minority from Syria was controlling some enclaves in South of the border with Turkey, now, the Kurdish militias have slowly taken the control of almost 400 km along the border. From this point of view, for the Turkish government, the Southern border is still a terrorism sanctuary at its border.

Blamed by the European Union and not only, the Turkish offensive (Operation Peace Spring), started on September 9th, is creating concerns on a new refugees wave. The US sanctions, the embargo on the armament deliveries, adopted by some of the European states, although it led to adopting a new ceasefire agreement for five days, it did not stop Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to continue its rhetoric, threatening to “open the doors” for the 3,6 million refugees who are still in the Turkish state.

Along with Assad’s air actions on the city and province Idlib, the last rebellious fortress in North-West Syria, the perspective of a humanitarian and security crisis on the South-East flank of the European bloc, that Europe should be ready to face, is more and more obvious.

The supplementation of the financial support to Turkey, initiated in 2016, is starting to raise controversies in Brussels, where France already took a stance.

All in all, getting the US forces out from the North-East border of Syria and Turkey, along with the Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces, could have some major consequences. The most important would be:

- the diminution of trust in US’s loyalty on its allies;

-region’s destabilization in terms of security and the humanitarian perspective;

-the obvious possibility of ISIS return, now, when the Kurds are forced to reconfigure their defence at the border with Turkey, at the expense of surveilling ISIS prisons and camps, in  their responsibility area;

- the diminution of the reconstruction effort of the area, seriously affected by the war, which led to enlarging the recruitment for ISIS;

-the emergence of negative consequences on the Turkish foreign policy;

-affecting the power balance between Turkey and Greece, through strengthening the US-Greece relation.

As this analysis’s topic target was the humanitarian perspective and its effects in increasing the refugee crisis, we can draw some conclusions out of it.

Turkey’s repeated attempts to join EU are already known and controversial as well (official EU candidate in 1999, opened the formal accession discussions in 2005, and then blocked). This relation, already difficult enough, got worse (2015 and 2016) due to Syrian migration crisis and the Islamic state fighters’ transit from Europe through Turkey.

A decrease of migrants’ flux in the following period has created the premises of an improvement of the situation.

So now, when the Turkish forces entered North of Syria, the European Union, concerned with some pressing issues (Brexit), has “managed” to create a common declaration whereby it blames Turkey’s actions in Syria and recommends the EU members to stop selling guns to Turkey. Nothing new about migration, although recent signals (10.000 migrants from Turkey got to Greece in August) are pretty concerning. Also, the Islamic state fighters (some being European citizens), captured in North Syria, may be freed.

From this point of view, EU, now heading to a new leadership, proves to be again vulnerable when it comes to the increase of the migration flux from Turkey to Europe and also unable to adopt coherent policies to approach this major risk. The security and economic effects will soon emerge as well.

Translated by Andreea Soare