Erdorgan waves his refugees trump card in Europe’s face

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 28, 2020

A Syrian refugee holds a baby in a refugee camp set in the town of Harmanli, south-east of Sofia nearly seven years ago.

Today (Friday, Feb. 28), Turkey’s president Erdogan has been speaking to US President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron about the situation in Syria.

The sub-text of any conversation with the Europeans is: Or else. Or else, we’ll release the refugees we hold into Europe.

Mr Erdogan’s party, the Justice and Development or AKP, has already said it’s getting increasingly difficult to “hold” the refugees. Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu quoted AKP spokesman Omer Celik as follows: “Our refugee policy is the same but there is a situation at hand. We’re not in a position to hold the refugees anymore”.

The position that Mr Celik was referring to is as follows:

After an air strike in Syria on Thursday, Feb. 27, which left at least 29 Turkish soldiers dead and wounded many others, Turkey feels entitled to ask for help from Europe and Nato in particular and the West more generally. Or else.

To understand why that is the case, consider this:

  • Thursday’s attack was the single deadliest incident suffered by Turkey, a Nato member, since the start of the Syrian civil war on its border nine years ago.
  • Turkey has asked for help from the international community to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib and to help to enforce a buffer zone to protect civilians or a no-fly zone to prevent Russian and Syrian aerial bombardment.
  • Turkey has invoked Article 4 of Nato’s treaty, which enables member states to request discussions if they believe their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened. Nato’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, has said that he had requested an emergency meeting of the alliance following the Turkish request.
  • Turkey is citing past humanitarian catastrophes in Rwanda and Bosnia to impress upon the international community the need to “uphold its responsibility” in the Idlib crisis.
  • Mr Erdogan’s biggest trump card in the entire discussion is the more than 4 million refugees on its soil, which it has been preventing from 2016 from travelling to Europe.