Pandemic dictates Ankara’s row with Athens

A baby cries as migrants arrive at the village of Skala Sikaminias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing on a dinghy the Aegean sea from Turkey on Monday, March 2, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 05 April 2020

Pandemic dictates Ankara’s row with Athens

  • Turkey consistently criticizes the EU for not providing enough financial support for the more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees in the country

ANKARA: The outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has obliged Turkey to recall thousands of migrants massed at the border with Greece.
The migrants have been living in tents in cold weather conditions, ever since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced last month that he would open the gates for them to make their way into Europe.
On Friday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told the Turkish TV channel NTV that about 5,800 migrants, waiting at the border crossing in northern Edirne province, had been moved from the area overnight, and taken to migration centers in nine provinces as a precaution against COVID-19.
Overpopulation, the lack of social distancing and inadequate hygiene standards are seen as enabling factors for the contagion.
Although the migrant issue has been dwarfed by efforts to stop the spread, the game is not over for decision-makers in Ankara. Soylu also warned that this did not mean a change in Turkey’s policy vis-à-vis migrants. “When this epidemic is over, we would not prevent whoever wants to leave,” he said.
The Greek government recently imposed a curfew on refugees and migrants living in the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, which is criticized for its poor living conditions and overpopulation, raising concerns among aid groups of a potential outbreak in Europe’s biggest camp for displaced people.
Turkey consistently criticizes the EU for not providing enough financial support for the more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees in the country.
But, as the EU has become introverted due to the widespread impact of COVID-19, Ankara is not likely to get what it wants as part of the 2016 EU-Turkey deal —financial help and visa-free travel for its citizens in the Schengen area — in the short term in return for stemming the flow of migrants.
The EU has so far provided Turkey with only a 2.7 billion euro ($2.9 billion) tranche out of 6 billion euros it pledged to the country for the care of Syrian refugees.
Ozgehan Senyuva, a professor of European politics from Ankara’s Middle East Technical University, said any move from the Turkish side to re-open the borders with Europe would pay into the hands of factions in Europe opposed to Turkish EU membership.
“They will use this as a justification for bashing Turkey. On the other hand, it should also be a wake-up call for the EU to get its house in order and re-evaluate its strategy and policies on how to deal with refugees,” he told Arab News.
Erdogan announced on Feb. 27 that his country would no longer stop the migration flow to Europe, resulting in a new influx of migrants and asylum-seekers towards the border with Greece, and seen by many Europeans as blackmail.
Although Turkey re-imposed stricter border controls in early March due to the threat of COVID-19, tens of thousands of refugees had already attempted to cross into Greece.
According to Dr. Christina Bache, visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) appears to be recalibrating its approach to migration management.
“A few weeks ago, Turkey attempted to leverage support from the EU to its most recent military campaign in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province by weaponizing forcibly displaced persons. After Erdogan announced that Turkey would no longer prevent anyone from trying to leave the country, a manufactured refugee crisis quickly emerged at the Greek-Turkish border,” she told Arab News.
Bache thinks that although it is difficult to ascertain the abrupt change of the Turkish government, it is clear that a securitized approach to irregular migration continues to compromise the EU and Turkey’s ability to pursue a principled human rights-based approach to the topic.
“The temptation to capitalize on the presence of refugees is off-putting. While Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees, no country, especially one that has sought to expand its defense industry and deepen its military engagement globally, should be given an award for offering protection and assistance to forcibly displaced persons,” she said.


Dubai clarifies rules on wearing face masks in public

Updated 36 min 42 sec ago

Dubai clarifies rules on wearing face masks in public

  • The clarification comes as Dubai eases public mobility restrictions and allowing businesses to resume operation

DUBAI: Children under the age of the six, the disabled, and those who have respiratory problems are exempt from wearing face masks in public areas, Dubai’s Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management has clarified.

The new guidelines come as Dubai returns to normal life – easing public mobility restrictions and allowing businesses to resume operation.

People are allowed to temporarily remove their masks if they are driving alone or with family members, according to the new guideline, adding those who are eating or drinking, and engaging in exercise or medical treatments are also permitted to remove their masks.