Refugees in limbo at Turkish-Greek border

Refugees in limbo at Turkish-Greek border
Refugees in limbo at Turkish-Greek border

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - ANKARA: As the EU sealed off its borders to try to prevent the aggressive spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the 10,000 refugees amassed along the Turkish-Greek border are bearing the human cost.

The leaders of Turkey, Germany, France, and Britain discussed the latest situation in Syria’s rebel-held northern province of Idlib and the situation of refugees on the border of Turkey and Greece at a televised meeting on Tuesday. Thousands of refugees flocked to the border after Ankara announced that it would no longer stop them from reaching to Europe.

But no further detail was given to the public about the decisions taken at the tele-summit, leaving the refugee issue in limbo.

According to Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch, the real issue is not the current number of asylum seekers at the Turkish-Greek border, shameful as it is that Greece is ripping up its legal obligations to let them submit their asylum claims by violently returning them to Turkey, all with an acquiescent nod from the EU.

“The real issue is whether three-to-four million civilians in Syria’s Idlib province will soon join them. That depends on whether the European powers put tough pressure on Putin — meaning the threat of targeted sanctions on the top Russian officials involved — if he suspends the current cease-fire in Idlib as he has done countless times in the past,” he told Arab News.

Turkey already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, and is unwilling to take in more.

According to Roth, the only way to prevent a mass exodus from Idlib, after any potential indiscriminate bombardment of civilians, is with tough, targeted pressure on Putin now.

“The summit participants didn’t speak publicly about this central issue. I certainly hope it dominated their private conversation,” he said.

Dr. Christina Bache, visiting fellow at London School of Economics and Political Science, said that the tele-summit between Turkey, France, and Germany on Tuesday failed to result in a coherent strategy to address the war in Syria or the humanitarian implications of the war.

“The EU and Turkey’s failure to pursue a principled human-rights approach to migration management has once again been on display this past month. Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party will likely continue to exploit rising anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe coupled with growing concern over the coronavirus pandemic for the sake of political opportunism,” she told Arab News.

For its part, Bache said, the EU will likely continue to export migration management to third countries despite their authoritarian tendencies, justify the securitization of migration, and disperse additional funding to stem irregular migration rather than address the root causes of the phenomenon.

According to Bache, Syrians have borne the brunt of an increasingly authoritarian Turkey, its deteriorating relationship with the EU, and the EU’s failure to address its institutional deficiencies in migration management.

“The humanitarian situation in Idlib is catastrophic. Nearly one million people have been displaced by the fighting and require immediate humanitarian aid. The current cease-fire should hold and humanitarian organizations should be allowed into the area to meet the needs of civilians,” she said.

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