Erdoğan fails to integrate refugees, uses them as weapons instead – op-ed

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has not developed a long-term strategy to integrate the millions of refugees it hosts and is instead using them as a weapon against the European Union, journalist Paul Gadalla wrote in an op-ed for the Greek daily Kathimerini.  

Turkey declared that its borders were open for migrants heading to Europe in late February, after a Syrian government attack killed dozens of Turkish troops in Idlib, northwest Syria. Thousands of migrants marched to Turkey’s border with Greece where they were confronted by Greek security forces.

“In this instance, Erdoğan has opened his country’s border to gain tactical leverage over Europe in negotiations for more aid to compensate for the failure of his Idlib offensive and the influx of refugees it might bring,” Gadalla said.

But this is not the first time Turkey’s president has instrumentalised the estimated 4 million refugees and asylum seekers sheltering in the country in its feuds with its neighbours, he said.

The Turkish government secured a migration deal with the European Union worth 6 billion euros in 2016 after large waves of migrants travelled to Europe as Turkey’s security forces neglected to police their own borders, the journalist said.

Since then, the millions of refugees in Turkey after being uprooted by conflicts in Syria, Iraq and other neighbouring countries have been a tool in Erdoğan’s arsenal, Gadalla said, even as their presence in the country provoked outrage from local politicians when Turkey’s economy waned.

The Turkish government responded to the growing public outcry about the number of refugees by imposing restrictions on their presence and declaring that they would not be allowed to settle in the country permanently.

“Such tactics only show what these refugees mean to Turkey: a burden they can use in extracting concessions from the EU,” Gadalla said.

“Now, as the 2016 migrant agreement with Turkey expires, the EU should also be tougher with Turkey in any further talks instead of acquiescing to being blackmailed,” he said.

Erdoğan travelled to Brussels to discuss an updated migration deal with EU leader earlier this month, but came back emptyhanded after reportedly asking for Turkey’s broader relations with the bloc to be tied to a new deal.