Turkey’s pressure on EU by opening borders to Syrian refugees questioned

Migrants and refugees hoping to enter Greece from Turkey appeared to be fanning out across a broader swathe of the roughly 200-kilometer-long land border Tuesday, maintaining pressure on the frontier after Ankara declared its borders with the European Union open. Thousands of people have already traveled to the Turkish-Greek border to try to reach the EU, and Erdogan has warned that millions more may come. (AP)
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Updated 03 March 2020

Turkey’s pressure on EU by opening borders to Syrian refugees questioned

  • Border opening has coincided with a serious escalation in fighting in Syria’s Idlib province

LONDON: Turkey’s opening of its borders so Syrian refugees can enter Europe is an attempt to pressure the EU into support for its offensive in Syria, but the strategy is likely to backfire, experts say.

The border opening has coincided with a serious escalation in fighting in Syria’s Idlib province, where Turkish and Syrian regime forces have entered into direct conflict.

This spike in violence is why Turkey chose to open its borders now, said Francesco Milan, associate fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“By pressuring the EU through the flow of refugees, (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan hopes to re-establish a degree of support for his actions in Syria — not through the EU itself, but through European members of NATO, blackmailing them into taking action alongside Turkey in the unfolding crisis,” Milan told Arab News.

However, “the EU is unlikely to capitulate to Turkey’s requests as this would … give Turkey additional leverage toward the EU,” he said. “This is likely to become another major crisis between the two sides.”

Already home to 3.7 million Syrian refugees, Turkey says it can no longer handle the number of people fleeing the Syrian war. 

Ankara has abandoned a 2016 deal with the EU to prevent refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers from entering the bloc in exchange for billions of euros in aid. 

Turkey has requested more financial assistance from the EU. But Mehmet Kurt, Marie Curie global fellow at Yale University, told Arab News that financial support “isn’t their only motivation — it’s the political support they want, and if they manage it, military support.”

He said: “The refugee issue is the only card that Turkey has against the EU to achieve this — they see it as the weakest point of the EU.”

Kurt added: “The EU won’t tolerate this — they’ll put their own measures and other mechanisms to control migration. This might not work well for Turkey in the long run, because now they’ve used the only card they have against the EU: Migration.”

While leaders argue over borders and financial aid, the human dimension of the crisis is too readily overlooked, said Reşat Kasaba, director of the Henry Jackson School of International Studies. “Tens of thousands of people are being used as mere pawns,” he told Arab News.

As for the fate of refugees who have made their way to the Greek border, Kasaba is not optimistic: “For them, it looks very bleak.”

Thousands of people have already traveled to the Turkish-Greek border to try to reach the EU, and Erdogan has warned that millions more may come.

Greece has since blocked all new asylum applications, and has deployed the army and riot police to protect the border.

European leaders want to avoid a repeat of the 2015-16 crisis, which saw more than a million refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers enter the EU from Turkey via Greece and the Balkans, sending political shockwaves through Europe and boosting support for far-right parties.

End the political deadlock, support group tells Beirut

Updated 26 November 2020

End the political deadlock, support group tells Beirut

  • UN leads calls for “urgent action” to halt downward spiral  
  • The ISG called on Hassan Diab’s caretaker government to “fully implement its immediate responsibilities”

BEIRUT: The International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG) has voiced its dismay over delays in the formation of a government in the crisis-racked country and called on Lebanese authorities to implement urgent reforms.
In a statement on Wednesday directed at Lebanon’s leaders, the group warned that as the political stalemate in the country drags on, “the social and economic crisis is getting worse.”
The ISG called on Hassan Diab’s caretaker government to “fully implement its immediate responsibilities,” adding that the “overriding need is for Lebanon’s political leaders to agree to form a government with the capacity and will to implement necessary reforms without further delay.”
Pragmatic legislative steps are needed to alleviate the “economic stress faced by Lebanese families and businesses,” it said.
The ISG was launched in 2013, and includes the UN, along with China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Britain and the US, the EU and the Arab League.
In its statement, the group welcomed France’s plan to hold an international conference in support of the Lebanese people by the early December. The forum will be co-chaired by the UN.
However, the summit “did not detract from the urgent need for government formation and reforms,” it said.
On Wednesday, Reuters quoted “an official source” who claimed that Lebanon’s central bank is considering reducing the level of mandatory foreign exchange reserves in order to continue supporting basic imports next year, with the already low reserves dwindling.
According to the source, Riad Salameh, the central bank governor, met with ministers in the caretaker government on Tuesday to discuss cutting the mandatory reserve ratio from 15 percent to 12 percent or even 10 percent. Foreign exchange reserves are currently about $17.9 billion, leaving only $800 million to support imports of fuel, wheat and medicine until the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Lebanese political leaders are seeking to shift blame for the parliamentary deadlock in a dispute illustrated by the exchange of accusatory letters between Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc and President Michel Aoun.
Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, tweeted on Wednesday: “We are in a vicious circle under the slogan of conditions, counter-conditions, names and counter-names, electoral and presidential bids, and flimsy regional bets, amid a tremendous change in the region.”
At a meeting of the joint parliamentary committees on Wednesday to discuss a draft law for the parliamentary elections, representatives of the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces party voiced their objections, claiming the project presented by the Berri parliamentary bloc “fuels the political, sectarian and doctrinal divide because it is based on the idea that Lebanon is one electoral constituency.”
Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan said that “what is being discussed today is a change in the political system, not just an electoral law.”
The Lebanese Parliament is due to hold a plenary session on Friday to discuss a letter sent by Aoun “to enable the state to conduct a forensic accounting audit of the Bank of Lebanon’s accounts.”
Alvarez & Marsal, which was carrying out a forensic audit of the central bank’s accounts, said last week it was halting the investigation because it was not being given the information needed to carry out the task.
The company’s decision came after the central bank invoked a banking secrecy law to prevent disclosure of information.
Aoun had insisted on the forensic audit “so that Lebanon is not seen as a rogue or failed state in the eyes of the international community.”
Families of the victims of the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion staging a sit-in near the parliament building demanded “a decree equating our martyrs with the martyrs of the army.”
Bereaved mothers, some carrying pictures of children killed in the blast, accused former and current heads of state of being responsible for the explosion.
Mohammed Choucair, head of the Lebanese Economic Organizations, said that Lebanese authorities “are dealing with this devastating event as if it were a normal accident.”
He said that “the only way to save Lebanon and rebuild Beirut is to form a capable and productive government that responds to the aspirations of the citizens.”