Turkey’s threat to turn on migrant tap is, like much of Erdogan’s words now, absolute nonsense
Turkey’s irascible, intemperate and irrational president (now vying with America’s Donald Trump for the title of Supreme Czar of BadBlah) is trying very hard to scare Europe into giving him peeled grapes and whatever bright shiny things he might desire.
These would include Europe meekly giving President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a pass on his repeated insults and bad behaviour, as well as allowing him to send ministers to European countries to campaign for next month’s referendum on a new Turkish Constitution.
So on Monday, Mr Erdogan’s deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmus grimly declared for European consumption “We will review the migrant deal if necessary”. He meant that Turkey would, if it were so minded, rip up the agreement it signed with the European Union a year ago. The deal was for Ankara to restrict migration flows to Europe in exchange for euros.
The Erdogan administration’s threat was supposed to reduce European politicians to a catatonic state at the thought of a repeat of 2015’s migration wave, relentlessly bound for the continent’s shores.
But guess what. It’s not as if Turkey can funnel hundreds of thousands of Middle Easterners into Europe at will.
First, the hottest bit of the Syrian conflict is over, what it’s worth.
Second, the numbers reflect the changed situation in the Middle East and North Africa region. In January 2017, just 1,500 migrants were bound from Turkey for Europe, a fraction of the nearly 70,000 in January 2016.
Third, for reasons of its own security, Turkey is unlikely to drop two-year-old visa entry requirements for Syrians because even someone as apparently vengeful as Mr Erdogan would not want to cut off his nose to spite Europe’s face. That is, if he ended visa requirements for Syrians and started to police the land border with Syria more laxly, there might be an influx of people passing through to Europe, but there would also be the risk of ISIS infiltration.
Finally, the 60,000 or so refugees in a limbo in Greece is hardly a great advert for others who might be thinking of heading for Europe.
The New York Times recently quoted Dimitris Christopoulos, president of the International Federation for Human Rights, an umbrella body for 178 rights groups, to say that the abysmal situation for refugees in Greece sent “a message to migrants: Do not come.”