Amid fighting in Syria, some 13,000 people were seeking to cross into Greece from Turkey on Saturday evening (29 February), prompting Greece to close the border and call for EU talks. Europe seems to be under the threat of new waves of irregular migration which could assume the proportion of the 2015 crisis when hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees entered the EU via the Balkan route.
In a bid to make Europe come to his aid in his current military misadventure in Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey had announced on Friday in the country’s parliament that he would no longer be bound by his agreement with the EU to stem migration flows. “Hundreds of thousands have crossed, soon we will reach millions,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.
It was Ankara’s desperate response to the killing of 33 Turkish soldiers in an air strike by Syrian government forces in Syria’s north-western Idlib region, signalling the precariousness of Erdogan’s policy in the country.
Fahrettin Altun, the communications director to President Erdogan said the fighting in Idlib was directly linked to Turkey’s decision to open the gates for refugees to Europe.
“Europe and others must take robust action to address this monumental challenge,” said Altun. “We can’t be expected to do this on our own.”
About 1 million Syrians have fled the war in Idlib and are living in camps near the Turkish border in dire circumstances, reports say.
But the EU Commission initially maintained that its deal with the Turks was still intact.
“Turkish authorities officially confirmed that there is no change in the official policy, no change in official position,” Peter Stano, a European Commission spokesperson, told reporters in Brussels on Friday.
The commission seemed to be living in denial as TV images of refugees massing on the Turkish border with Greece tell another story.
The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced on Sunday that an extraordinary meeting of the foreign affairs council would take place next week.
“The ongoing renewed fighting in and around Idlib represents a serious threat to international peace and security,” Borell said on a statement.
Turkey seems to have reached the end of its wit in its strategy to triangulate between the West and Russia. While it has been sending signals to its NATO allies that it would not abide by all of its rules, such as buying some critical defence systems from Russia against US objections, it was also pursuing a Syria policy that is confrontational to Russian interests.
Caught in the web of his intricate diplomatic games, President Erdogan has now resorted to blatant blackmail using irregular migration as his trump card. By threatening to flood Europe with refugees, he expects the EU to put pressure on Russia to relent in its support for President Assad’s determined efforts to liberate the last enclave of the country still under the control of rebels, most of whom are Islamist terrorists.
It seems however that Erdogan’s strategy could pay off as alarm signals have gone off in Europe. Politicians say if the EU does not use its diplomatic weight to win new Russian concessions for Turkey in Syria, it should brace up for new waves of migrants from the country, a situation that could cause political crises in some of its member states. “A situation like 2015 must never be repeated,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has warned.