A joint Turkey – EU approach for the growing Afghan refugee wave

Omer Ozkizilcik

Europe will not be able to convince Ankara to open its borders to host Afghan refugees. It should work with Turkey diplomatically and financially instead.

With weeks until the US completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban continues to capture swathes of territory – having reached under 100 kilometres from the capital, Kabul at the time of writing. After the rural areas, provincial capitals are now falling one after the other to the Taliban. These developments, alongside the general destruction, poverty and the dire security situation have triggered a new wave of migration

Hundreds of thousands of Afghans have started migrating west, passing through Iran and Turkey to reach the European heartland. Now that Afghans have started to reach Turkey, European capitals want to extend the refugee agreement with Turkey to ensure that the refugees don’t cross into the European Union. 

In other words, Europe wants to pay Turkey to bear the costs of a failed and disastrous US misadventure. This will not happen. A joint Turkish-European approach is needed instead.

After the migration wave of Syrians to Europe, the European Union’s policy became that of the ‘Fortress Europe’: building walls, attacking refugees, closing down borders and striking agreements with neighbouring countries, the EU effectively blocked all paths for refugees. The most critical and effective brick within this strategy was the refugee agreement with Turkey. Before the agreement, one million Syrian refugees sought asylum in European states. After that, the refugee flow all but stopped.

To ensure the effectiveness of the refugee agreement with Turkey, the EU, and with Greece notably at the forefront, employed an inhumane strategy: the Greek border guards repeatedly tortured refugees, sank their boats, and deported refugees illegally to Turkish islands

To this day, the EU tolerates this strategy. Some countries even support the Greek government’s human rights violations in the Aegean Sea. By doing so, they hope to stop the small but continuous flow of refugees make it across the border without being spotted by Turkish border guards.

With the new flow of Afghan refugees, the fear in Europe is growing. Most remember 2015 and don’t want a repeat of that scenario. The EU is not willing to accept the new refugees and will work to prevent them from reaching their countries. 

European officials have expressed paying Turkey to host the refugees and extend the refugee agreement to Afghan refugees as well. This attitude is another display of egocentric and selfish European politics.

However, in reality, this attitude by the EU will ultimately only harm itself and increase new and additional costs that are avoidable and unnecessary. Turkey has learned from the experience of the refugee agreement with the EU. The agreement combined several aspects from visa liberation, to financial aid to the refugees, and a modernisation of the Customs Union. The EU failed to deliver, and Turkey is hesitant to trust the EU with a new agreement.

More importantly, Turkey’s capacity is full. Turkey already hosts the biggest refugee population in the world by far; Syrians, Iraqis, Central Asians and others make up over 4 million refugees in Turkey. When the Austrian Prime Minister offered to pay money for Afghan refugees to be accommodated in Turkey, it was rejected immediately. The Turkish opposition responded, “We will give you 3 billion euros so you can take all the refugees.”

The Turks have reached their limit. The opposition has long criticised the presence of refugees in Turkey and even employed racist rhetoric against them, but now, the Turkish governing party and its partner are also positioning themselves against the Afghan migration flow. 

European capitals need to understand that Turkey has long ago changed its policy to one that is closed-border. When the Russian-supported regime offensive in Syria’s Idlib threatened a new migration wave, Turkey stood its ground and prevented it. To do so, Turkey sacrificed over 60 of its soldiers’ lives, confronted Russia and demolished the Bashar al Assad regime’s armed units and militias.

There is no amount of financial aid that will convince Ankara to open its borders and host Afghan refugees. The EU should recognise the burden on Turkey and extend its hand in help instead of viewing Turkey as a big refugee camp that will host all those wanting to go to Europe. The EU should reconsider its position by thinking about what they would have done today if Turkey had become a EU member state in the early 21st century.

In this manner, the EU needs to work on three different areas. First, the EU should aid Turkey  diplomatically and financially to prevent the inflow of Afghan refugees and ensure a safe return for Afghan refugees when feasible and in keeping with international law. Second, the bloc should criticise and pressure Iran for its manipulation of the refugee issue against Turkey. Third, the EU should work with Turkey to open a pathway for Syrians to return to Syria.

By aiding Turkey in preventing the Afghan refugees from reaching Turkey, the EU will demonstrate solidarity with Turkey, in the interest of both sides. For instance, the EU can partially finance Turkey’s walls and security installations at the border. 

Second, the disturbing role of Iran bussing Afghan refugees from the Iranian-Afghan border to the Turkish-Iranian border needs to be addressed. The EU can help Turkey signal to Iran to change its behaviour. 

Last, and most importantly, with political pragmatism, the EU should play a significant role in aiding Turkey to expand security zones in Syria and to build new housing, so that refugees in Turkey can voluntarily return to Syria in dignity and safety.

Courtesy: TRT World

Leave a Comment