Is the EU jesting with Turkey?

Is the EU jesting with Turkey?

It’s almost like a bad joke. At the very moment when EU member states are doing their utmost to close their borders to Syrian refugees, the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Frederica Mogherini is calling on Ankara to admit the tens of thousands of refugees piled up on Turkey’s borders near the town of Kilis, following the recent advances near Aleppo by al-Assad regime forces supported by Russia and Iran. 

Mogherini is saying that there is a moral if not legal duty to provide protection to these people. According to her, the EU is also providing funds to ensure that Turkey has “the means, the instruments, and the resources to protect and host the people who are seeking asylum.”

This appears to be no more than a flimsy attempt to retain a moral high ground against Turkey at a time when Europe is reacting deplorably to the refugee crisis and therefore has much to answer for. What Mogherini says also completely disregards what Turkey has been doing for the past four years. 

There are reports in the European press claiming that Turkey is saying the refugees are receiving food and shelter inside Syria and there is no need to allow them to cross. If this were true, the first people to be happy would be the Turks, who are deeply concerned about a new flood of refugees. These claims, however, are contradicted by the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) ill-considered “open door” policy for Syrian refugees, which is also a source of deep annoyance for many Turks. 

The government insists, as it has done from the start, that Ankara has a moral duty to admit these people in so there is no need for Mogherini to stress this point as far as Turkey is concerned. She would do better to concentrate her efforts on convincing EU member states instead. 

The bottom line is that there is no change in Ankara’s open door policy for Syrian refugees.  The bare truth is that Turkey cannot change this policy because the AKP would lose face, having vowed from the start to always take in the victims of the al-Assad regime. 

Ankara even admitted tens of thousands of Kurdish Yezidi refugees for the sake of appearance because of this policy, even though it had no real desire to do so. Travelling back from Latin America a few days ago, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reiterated this policy again when talking to reporters on his plane. 

“If these brothers of ours are at our door and have no other choice then we have to take them in,” he said.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also told his European colleagues in Amsterdam on Feb. 5 that Turkey would maintain its open door policy - even though there are approximately 2.5 million Syrian refugees already in Turkey. 

So it is not a matter of whether Ankara will allow in the tens of thousands of refugees at the Öncüpınar border crossing, it is merely a question of timing.

As to Mogherini’s argument that the EU aid provided to Turkey was given to ensure that Ankara could protect and host fleeing Syrians, Erdoğan told reporters that although there is much talk about the 3 billion euros to be extended to Turkey, none of this money has yet been received. 

If and when this money arrives it is clear that it will fall far short of what is needed to cope with this growing problem. There also appears to be some ambiguity in Europe as to how the money will be used.  

There seem to be those who believe it will be allocated so Turkey can increase border controls in order to staunch the flow of refugees, thus also reducing the numbers reaching Europe.

One hopes that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s talks in Ankara on Feb. 8 represented a reality check for Europe, so that it too can live up to its “moral responsibilities” rather than trying to engage in “moral one-upmanship” while burying its head in the sand. After all the problem will not go away simply because the EU wants it to.