Turkey’s playing of the migrant card not ethical
It was not surprising to see President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan playing the migrant card against the European Union on Nov. 25. “Look, if you go further, the border gates will be opened. You should know that,” he said.
The threat came one day after a majority of European lawmakers voted in favor of a resolution calling on the European Commission to temporarily freeze the ongoing full membership negotiations with Turkey because of serious breaches of human rights, fundamental freedoms, and basic principles of the rule of law.
The European Parliament vote is non-binding and is unlikely trigger an initiative at the European Commission or the Council of Europe to suspend accession talks with Turkey. In fact, a number of countries have voiced their support for the continuation of talks with Turkey, insisting that freezing the process will help neither side.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country was in favor of continued dialogue with Turkey and the continuation of the migrant deal. Merkel is set to run for a fourth term in the upcoming general election in Germany and Turkish officials are quite aware that a victory for her would be favorable for Turkey as well.
Erdoğan has used the migrant card in the past too. In a meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Nov. 19, 2015, he had threatened them by saying Turkey could open its borders with Greece and Bulgaria and send the refugees to Europe in buses if a deal between Turkey and the EU was not reached.
The minutes of that meeting were posted by a Greek website in February, after which Erdoğan confirmed what he said at the meeting. “You must have read what we said there. We defended the rights of our country and of Syrians,” he said, adding that the published minutes were “not a source of shame but rather of absolution.”
“In the past we stopped people at the gates of Europe. In Edirne we stopped their buses. This may happen once or twice, but then we can open the gates and wish them a safe journey. That’s what I said,” Erdoğan added.
The deal that the Turkish president wanted with the EU was ultimately reached by the efforts of former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and German Chancellor Merkel on March 18, 2016. Thanks to the agreement, refugees were saved from being drowned in the Aegean Sea as Turkey, Greece, the EU and NATO launched an efficient hunt of human smugglers in the region. According to the agreement, for every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be directly resettled to the EU from Turkey. The agreement also accepts the providing of financial assistance to the Turkish government to use for Syrian refugees.
The agreement is still in place and efficiently functioning. Figures show a sharp decrease in the number of irregular migrants trying to cross the Aegean to the Greek islands.
But in his Nov. 25 speech, Erdoğan harshly slammed EU countries for not treating humanity and refugees “honestly” and not looking after them “fairly.” It is fair to say he is right in his criticism of the Europeans’ treatment of refugees, and some countries deserve even harsher language on this issue.
However, it should also be noted that considering the issue of refugees – who have sought shelter in Turkey after fleeing war - as a “card” that can be played when needed is little different from Europe’s non-
humanitarian approach. Political negotiations between Turkey and the EU should not be carried out using refugees, who had to leave their homes to save their lives, as bargaining chips.