As COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted in Turkey, a second surge of illegal immigrants is expected to start heading to Greece from Turkey. The information comes from a confidential report authored by the European border protection agency Frontex: “The restrictions on Covid-19 have been gradually lifted in most Aegean provinces, but not yet in Dardanellia, Constantinople and Smyrna. If freedom of movement is restored in these areas, massive movements of migrants towards the Greek-Turkish border can be expected.”
In February and early March tens of thousands of illegal immigrants attempted to cross from Turkey into Greece. The Greek-Turkish border area was under siege and dissolved into near chaos. Turkish troops fired on Greek police, and there were instances of Turkish soldiers actually trying to bring down the border fence. Then the pandemic came and brought a respite to the simmering border. The Turks transported the illegal immigrants back inland to refugee camps.
Now that conditions are starting to improve inside of Turkey, expect Ankara to begin moving the migrants soon. Practically speaking, Turkey cannot afford to keep them around for very long. The Turkish economy is presently on the ropes. The lira is at an all-time low against the dollar, and a number of the country’s largest banking institutions are precariously close to bankruptcy. Then there are Turkey’s foreign adventures to take into account. Syria is quiet for the moment, but as the pandemic withers out, this will not remain so. The same holds true for Libya, another area where Turkey has become heavily invested.
As far as the border situation goes, Greece had been preparing to move 400 additional police officers to the area before the pandemic forced the cancellation. Those plans appear to be back on now.
Turkey has “opened the doors” for thousands of Syrian refugees encamped on Turkish soil to now travel freely to Europe. Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan claims 18,000 refugees have already crossed Turkish borders into Europe. According to him another 30,000 are expected to cross in the coming days. Violent clashes on the Hellenic-Turkish frontier between Greek police and migrants have occurred and the situation there is expected to deteriorate in the coming days as more Syrian refugees make for Europe.
This move comes just days after 33 Turkish troops were killed in a Syrian air attack in Idlib. In response Turkey has been striking Syrian government targets, urging Russia to remain out of its present conflict with the Syrian government, and attempting to build a strong base of international support for future actions in Syria. This is where the refugee issue comes into play. Turkey claims the European Union has not lived up to the terms of its deal with Turkey which had kept over 3 million Syrian refugees hosted in Turkey and unable to leave for Europe. According to the Turkish government, the EU has not helped Turkey house and feed the refugees, or help to stem the tide of refugees flowing from Syria into Turkey.
Erdogan is attempting to play the refugee card now and exchange it for EU support. In effect, he’s looking for a simple exchange of favors. He will shut off the refugee stream as long as Europe hops on the bandwagon and supports what is expected to be an enlarged Turkish military and political offensive in Syria. In other words, a quid pro quo. Turkey’s move with the refugees has been labeled blackmail by many political analysts and observers. Close, but not entirely accurate. Turkey’s playing of the refugee card is more a textbook example of Realpolitik. This move was based on political and practical considerations, not moral principles or ideology. To dress it down to a layman’s term, Realpolitik can best be summed up as ‘fucking your buddy.’