Idlib and Refugee Crisis
Ankara decided to open its European border gates following the Syrian government’s airstrike in Idlib on the 27 th of February, which has resulted in the deaths of at least 33 Turkish soldiers and has left many soldiers seriously injured. This decision which has patently triggered the second refugee crisis for Europe since 2015, showed that the airstrike and its consequences were the watershed moment for the Turkish side, in which hosts approximately 3.5 million Syrian refugees. In fact, Turkey was forced to open its borders for possible new refugee influx from Syria, because of the increase in the Syrian and Russian airstrikes since the beginning of 2020 in spite of the Sochi agreement.
In the wake of Ankara’s decision, hundreds arrived at the European border. A few days later, the Turkish Minister of Internal Affairs spoke of around 135 thousand refugees had headed to Greece from the Edirne border gates after a few days later of the decision being made. Moreover, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that millions of refugees and migrants would be soon heading for Europe. It has also been proven that, the move put forth by Turkey is not temporary and the European border gates are still open since the 27th of February.
To continue, in the wake of Turkey’s decision which was based on not to prevent refugees and migrants any longer from heading to Europe, the Greek authorities have seemed to act against both international laws and humanitarian imperatives by blocking the people by using tear gas and water cannons to force them to go back to Turkey. The Greece Development Minister has even gone further and called this surge as an “invasion”. Also, the European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen did not draw a different picture from that of Greece, regarding the new refugee crisis. She denounced Turkey for testing Europe’s unity and undermining their determination to protect external borders based on, supposedly, European values. And apparently, shooting at those who are in need of protection is the European values.
The Recent Past of the Migrant Crisis
Turkey had launched an offensive military operation called the Operation Peace Spring on October 9th, 2019. The operation had two main objectives. The first one was concerning the removal of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which is the extension of the terrorist organization of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey. The second one is regarding establishing a “safe zone” to resettle some of the Syrian refugees. The operation has received severe international criticism and condemnation, because of the former objectives of Turkey. On the other hand, it is understandable that international actors, such as: the European Union and the United States, cannot acknowledge Turkey’s own security threats. But, it is fathomable that Europe also seems reluctant to help and acknowledge Turkey’s second objective, in which is about establishing a safe zone in Idlib, and only provides lip service to Turkey’s struggle regarding the refugee crisis. Turkey, Russia, and Iran agreed on 2017, to establish a de-escalation zone, or in other words, a safe zone in Idlib within the framework of the Astana process for Syrian refugees who are both living in Turkey and fleeing from Syria. However, Europe might be reluctant and blinded with the number of displeasures pointed towards Turkey, mainly because of the following examples, the Turkish offensive military operations directed at “their ally (YPG)” in the region, buying S-400 missile defenses from Russia, the refugee crisis, and Erdogan calling the European leaders Natzis. At this point, it will be fair enough to say that, Europe whom are scapegoating Turkey with respect to using refugees as mere foreign policy instruments and weaponizing them for political means, has marginalized Turkey’s struggle against the migrant crisis for its own political displeasures and animosities.
The Importance of Idlib
Unlike what is mostly reflected in the international media, Idlib, in fact, does possess great importance for Turkey mainly due to humanitarian reasons. On the other hand, the impasse in Idlib has undoubtedly created big challenges for Turkey economically, politically, and socially. To add on, Europe whom has been repeatedly asked for help by Turkey, did not bear any responsibility for this situation and made it clear that what happens in Syria means little to them, mainly because they do not share common borders with Syria. However, this line of thinking is proven to be ill calculated not just because the fact that, Turkey eventually facilitated the refugees’ passage to Europe, but also because of what might happen after Assad, who has been backed up by both Russia and Iran, claim victory.
First of all, the recent polls conducted by the Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity displayed that the number of people who are willing to return their homeland are limited, because of the high level of distrust, insecure, and hopeless feelings embedded in them towards the Assad regime. This means that the refugee crisis will be unabated. Second of all, Europe and the United States, who have implemented the “hide its head in the sand” strategy in both Idlib and Syria from the very beginning, will have a little say in the future political reconstruction processes in Syria, whereas Russia and Iran will extend their impact in the country’s faith regarding every aspect. .To continue, the process toward reconstructions, which Europe and the United States have been long waiting for, might not be easily accomplished due to the upcoming risks concerning the Russian and Iranian rivalry in the already war-torn country, Syria. In this scenario, Syria will fall under impasse, which will consequently harbour political, economic, and social instability in the region. In this respect, Idlib is a chokepoint for Europe and many powerful countries, primarily the United States.
What I want to point out here is that the humanitarian emergency in Idlib has reached its peak. However, it is undeniable that there are political and security interests and problems embedded in Idlib not only for Turkey, but also for Europe and for the world. Therefore, it is clear that the powerful international actors will not act based upon humanitarian and moral imperatives, but they should at least start to take measures for the sake of their political and security interests.
To conclude, the policy of the refugee containment in Turkish lands is not sustainable anymore and this has been proven with the fruitless crisis meeting in Brussels. Indeed, Europeans should not overlook the approaching catastrophic crisis with the allegations that Turkey has its own agenda in Syria. When considering the possibility of the new influx of refugees due to the developments in Idlib, the refugee crisis goes beyond the limits of what Turkey can undertake by itself. In order to stop the suffering of civilians and the new refugee influx, the European Union should firstly show strong political will to push Damascus and Russia to act in parallel with international laws. Secondly, they should support Turkey’s safe zone plan in the northwest of Idlib, both economically and politically. And lastly, they should understand their inaction has only allowed in the worsening of the situation at hand.