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.