By Dr. Carl Mirra*
If the root causes of Erdogan’s “opening the gates” are not addressed, a short-term problem may intensify into a long term crisis. Let’s hope that doesn’t mean war.
Much of the world recognizes that Greece has not fully recovered from the brutally unfair 2015 financial crisis. The current situation places a “disproportionate burden on Greece” as one refugee group put it. Turkey has a violent history with the Greeks, who are understandably fearful and angry. But anger should not suffocate basic policy steps that may help ease the crisis:
Detention facilities in Greece are over capacity; the mayor of Lesvos calls it “Europe’s Guantanamo Bay.” The UN Refugee Agency has acknowledged that Greece “should not be left alone” and “all states have the right to control their borders.”
Knee jerk attacks on the UN are counterproductive and overlook that its agencies have successfully relocated people. They can help to ease the Greece crisis, while upholding international norms. Complex problems require complex solutions. Strong, forward-looking steps can be taken to uphold the basic humanity of those fleeing without overburdening Greece:
1. Pronounced “dead” by Greece’s Prime Minister following Turkey’s “opening of the gates,” the 2016 EU-Turkey settlement needs to be resurrected. That deal allowed that each person “arriving irregularly” in Greece to be returned to Turkey in exchange for a person to be relocated from Turkey throughout the EU. Reports indicate that the EU has seriously underperformed on this deal. Turkey has not only failed to stop migration but is using migrants as a bargaining chip. Bulgaria’s failed attempt to get Erdogan to the table means exerting more pressure. European partners need to compel Erdogan toward a new deal, and one with greater enforceability and EU commitment.
2. In the meantime, immediate action needs to be taken. The EU Commission has adopted some measures to help. These should be disseminated to clarify what actions are underway. The EU commission announced the deployment of Frontex rapid response, European Asylum Support Office personnel, and financial assistance.
3. Both EU countries and the US need to step up and resettle those eligible for asylum. Some observers are reporting a high number of Iraq, Afghanistan and Iranian refugees that are currently migrating from Turkey. If so, US/UK bears some responsibility. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan caused massive displacement. The bombing of Syria under the Obama administration added to this mess. Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops that led to Erdogan’s ghastly attack on the Kurds amplified the refugee crisis. The Kurds reportedly held some 10,000 ISIS fighters.
If Greece believes that ISIS terrorists are among the refugees, it would make sense to support Muslims fighting both ISIS and Erdogan. Mindless anti-Muslim sentiment drowns out potential points of solidarity and pressure on Turkey. In short, for the US to bomb a country and create a massive refugee crisis, then close it borders should not be ignored. The crisis that landed on the Greek border has deep, root causes that aren’t going to disappear into thin air.
Noteworthy is the successful resettlement assistance that International Organization for Migrants (IOM) provided in Iraq. Fear based conspiracy theories against the refugee agency only frustrates solutions. IOM reportedly resettled more than a million people in an even more intense conflict zone. Greece is one of the founding members of the IOM. A similar wide scale assistance program, funded by the EU and donors, should be attempted. At some point, a screening and relocation process will need to occur. Better sooner than later.
The seize fire in Syria is also critically important. Again, Greeks should find solidarity against Erdogan among Muslims displaced as a result of Turkish aggression there.
4. Many people are calling for a boycott of Turkish goods. Americans can assist that effort by demanding a reversal of President Trump’s 13 November 2019 announcement of a $100 billion trade agreement with Turkey where he said “I am a big fan of Erdogan.” “Turkey as everyone knows is a great NATO ally.” A video of those comments was allegedly removed from FOX news but it accessible at the Internet Archive, way back machine. A transcript still appears on the Whitehouse webpage
The effectiveness of any boycott will be seriously compromised if the US government pursues a $100 billion trade deal with what the President called a “great NATO ally.”
Members of U.S. Congress have passed a bill with targeted sanctions against Turkey. President Trump as well as the defense and oil industry have slowed that effort. Another action concerns cars. Cars? Author Iveta Cherneva took a lot of heat when she suggested pressure on Volkswagen to avoid building a plant in Turkey. A concrete step concerned citizens can take is to petition Volkswagen to stop any expansion in Turkey.
Another way to pressure Turkey is to support Congress’ move against Turkey’s purchase of Russian missiles and get the President to stop dragging his feet because, in his own words, “I respect Erdogan.” The act, Congress Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), can be applied to Turkey.
5. Something to think about: The “closed border” mentality that is spreading across Europe and the U.S undermines the badly needed cooperative effort to disperse refugees. A closed border mindset will only continue the undue and disproportionate burden on border states like Greece.
The unemployment rate for migrants in Greece approaches 30 percent, according to data from the International Organization for Migration. For the overall population it is more than 16 percent. European partners need to better share the resettlement that is being deflected to Turkey and border states like Greece…
6. Determining whether people are internally displaced persons, migrants in vulnerable situations, so-called “pawns,” or categorically irregular migrants can be determined through a vetting process assisted by the EU asylum experts (see #2).
Here a call to the EU (some $700 million already pledged) and other powerful states such as the US for greater financial and border assistance to properly and sanely vet people should occur. Children, whether they are being manipulated by unscrupulous actors or not, should be protected. Anything less than a call to protect children is inhumane.
As difficult as it is, it must be acknowledged that Turkey has an enormous refugee population and a crisis unfolding in the northwest. The EU has deflected the problem to Turkey. This only emboldens Erdogan’s threats. The Syrian civil war will continue to spawn refugees regardless of any seize fire. The international community and the U.S. need to acknowledge its role in the crisis. A failure to address basic root causes will leave people at your door step demanding entry.
*Dr. Carl Mirra is an associate professor at Adelphi University in New York. He is the author of several books on foreign policy and his articles have appeared in the Cambridge Review of International Affairs among others. Institution is for identification only.