Hypocrisy over Syrian refugees

Hypocrisy over Syrian refugees

“Are you mocking us?” Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan attacked the United Nations on Feb. 10. The day before, a U.N. official had called on Ankara to “open its border” to Syrian refugees who have started to pile up on the border. The new crisis follows the Russian-backed advance of forces loyal to the Bashar al-Assad regime against the opposition-held quarters of Syria’s second biggest city Aleppo.

Turkey has taken some 2.5 million Syrian refugees since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria in 2011.

Erdoğan also underlined that it has spent “nearly $10 billion so far on accommodation and basic services, including education, with negligible outside aid, including from the U.N.”

Ahmet Davutoğlu said at a joint press conference with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague on Feb. 10 that the latest wave of migrants, an estimated 70,000 across the Turkish border, will be taken in. 

“Turkey has never closed its borders to Syrian refugees,” Davutoğlu said, adding that his government wanted everyone to understand that Russia is backing the Syrian regime’s push to “cleanse all Syrians other than those loyal to the regime from the country.” 

“Those who cannot say anything to the Russian aggression there, including the U.N., have no right to criticize us,” he said.

An even more controversial approach than the U.N.’s came from EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini last weekend, when she asked Turkey to open its (never totally closed) border with Syria. This is the same EU that called on Ankara to seal the border after Turkey shot down a Russian jet on Nov. 24, 2015 over a series of airspace violations despite many warnings. 

These developments show that there is no coherent EU policy on refugees. It just wants Turkey to take them in and keep them there, away from EU borders.

Dutch PM Rutte, on the other hand, said it was not right to leave Turkey alone. He agreed with an initiative started by Davutoğlu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Feb. 9 to propose that NATO gets involved in the control of illegal crossings from Syria to Turkey, including the illegal sea routes to EU countries. That proposal is expected to be submitted to NATO tomorrow (Feb. 11) on the second day of the NATO defense ministers’ meeting.

Davutoğlu also complained about the “hypocrisy” or “double standard” regarding the treatment of terrorist groups. The row between Washington and Ankara is growing over the support given to the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria. The PYD provides militia in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but Turkey says supporting the PYD - the Syrian sister of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – is simply the same as supporting the PKK, which remains on the official terrorist organizations list of both the U.S. and the EU. 

But a key test on the issue of Syrian refugees is likely to take place today, “Syria Thursday,” on two important stages: The NATO and anti-ISIL coalition meetings in Brussels and the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting in Munich.