Turkey’s refugee blackmail could become global model - analyst

In 2016, Turkey used coercion and threats to leverage its Syrian refugee population for economic and political gain, and now other countries may follow its lead, said an analysis for the Washington Post.

As the number of global refugees hits record highs, major host countries like Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan are finding ways to take political advantage, according to Gerasimos Tsourapas, associate professor in Middle East politics at the University of Birmingham in Britain.

“Seeking to benefit from increasing Western fears of mass refugee inflows, certain host states are increasingly able to use their position to secure unearned external income,” Tsourapas wrote on Monday for the Washington Post.

“Turkey was able to secure an unprecedented sum of 6 billion euros in 2016, as well as other concessions, in return for keeping Syrian refugees within its borders,” said Tsourapas, referring to the deal under which Turkey, which hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees, agreed to step up border patrols and cut migrant flows.

Months later, Lebanon agreed to a 400 million-euro partnership with the EU to improve living conditions for Syrian refugees.

In contrast to Jordan, which made repeated calls for international aid, Tsourapas counts Turkey among the states that took a blackmailing approach based on coercion.

“We can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria anytime and we can put the refugees on buses,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned the EU in February 2016. “So how will you deal with refugees if you don’t get a deal? Kill the refugees?”

Last year, pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper published a map imagining which European countries would be most affected by a new wave of Syrian refugees if Syrian President Bashar Assad went ahead with his planned assault on Idlib. He did just that in late April, and thus far some 350,000 Syrians have been driven from their homes, with the possibility of up to 2 million looking to find refuge in Turkey.

Western states’ reluctance to host migrants and refugees has grown exponentially, and Tsourapas sees this commodification of forced migration continuing and possibly expanding in buffer zone states.

Weeks after the 2016 EU-Turkey deal, Kenya threatened to close down the Dadaab refugee camp, one of the world’s largest, saying the West had been getting away with it “on the cheap”. Shortly thereafter, according to Tsourapas, a Jordanian official said, “we should have blackmailed the EU, like Turkey did”.