Hardpressed to manage new refugee flows, Turkey opened its Europe borders to give a jolt to European leadership that has been sleeping over the Syrian crisis from the get go.
Turkey’s recent political decision-making does not reflect a change in the country's policy towards the migration and asylum, in as much as it reflects Ankara's reading of recent developments in northern Syria.
Turkey continues to implement “temporary protection” for Syrians in our country. None of our Syrian brothers & sisters has been asked to leave. If they choose to stay, they can. If they choose to leave, they can.— Fahrettin Altun (@fahrettinaltun) March 1, 2020
This is deeply-rooted in a strategic emphasis on drawing the attention of Western capitals and the world to the significant international responsibilities Turkey singularly carries out, and moreover what the situation could become should the international community fail to fulfill their obligations.
In recent years, Turkey has repeatedly warned of the posed risk to refugees and migrant situations getting out of control. This was in spite of its recent warning to the world of the amassing waves of refugees flowing to its borders, particularly from the Syrian province of Idlib.
What escalated this situation? Over a million people were displaced following a series of consecutive bloody attacks on Idlib province launched by Bashar al-Assad’s regime forces , supported extensively with Russian military aircover.
The perpetual silence of the international community and its evident inability to intervene to end the massacre has emboldened the Assad regime to continue spilling the blood of unarmed civilians in Idlib. More dangerously, some countries seem to believe that Turkey is the only one able to bear the humanitarian burden for the catastrophic consequences and loss of human life.
Ankara has rejected this unequivocally, as the refugee problem is one shared by the entire international community.
We view outside criticism of our refugee policy with a sense of incredulity! Those who fight over what to do with a few thousand refugees dare criticize a country with 3.7 million refugees for saying “enough is enough.” The rampant hypocrisy is disingenuous and shameful!— Fahrettin Altun (@fahrettinaltun) March 1, 2020
The orders were issued to Turkish police, the coast guard and border security officials to not stop the flow of refugees by land and sea to Europe, following the climax of the Syrian regime and Russian attacks on Idlib.
The most recent raid killed 33 Turkish soldiers in a vicious night-time bombardment and aerial strike in Jabal al-Zawiya. Seen in the light of NATO’s reluctance, and the United States hesitant to impose a no-fly zone that Turkey has been calling for weeks.
Turkey has been home to more than 3.7 million Syrian refugees, and over a million others from various nationalities, providing them with free public services, health care and gainful employment. In past years, it has exerted every effort to fully control its borders and counter the illegal smuggling of immigrants through its territories towards Europe.
This was in fulfilment of obligations stemming from agreement to return refugees concluded by Europe in 2015, in return for a commitment to provide 6 billion euros for refugee sponsoring institutions in Turkey.
But this takes no account of the growing human toll and unchecked growth of tragedy.
Farouk Kaymakci, Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister for European Union Affairs, confirmed late last year that hosting the refugees cost Turkey above 40 billion dollars.
That said, the European Union has yet to allocate more than 5.6 of 6 billion euros, with only 3.5 billion of which were delivered, while disbursements did not exceed 2.4 billion as of last October.
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy stressed that recent developments in Idlib have increased the burden Turkey bears regarding refugees. The aggravation of the situation will increase migrants flowing to Europe, he says, stressing that Turkey has not changed its policy on this key matter. Rather, the displacement of hundreds of thousands in the province Idlib towards the border with Turkey has increased its burden, and the worsening situation will increase the pace of the refugee movement.
In this, Turkey is reflecting its key conviction: to not impede the path of those wishing to cross into Europe from political as well as humanitarian grounds. In terms of politics, Ankara believes that the international community should shoulder its responsibilities, and do everything it can to prevent the tragedies that caused the displacement in the first place. Only concerted, collective action is holding back the Assad regime, Moscow and Tehran from causing further human tragedies by targeting Syrian civilians en-masse.
From a humanitarian point of view, Turkey realizes that emptying Idlib before the Assad regime and Russia’s scorched earth policy arrives, has yet to receive a solid refusal by the international community. Therefore, Syrians expelled and dispelled from their land, have the right to seek a place providing the safety they lack in their country.
In this regard, Fahrettin Altun, the head of the Communication Department of the Presidency of the Turkish Republic, stressed that his country cannot tolerate the repetition of the genocide and systematic cleansing that occurred in Rwanda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and which is taking place in Idlib today.
To this end, it fervently calls on the international community to take measures to protect civilians and establish a no-fly zone in the Idlib area.
"Turkey's decision to open the doors to refugees is not a means to achieve gains or invest them, as much as it is a decision to carry responsibility for all those involved. The refugee issue and what is happening in Syria is a global international problem," says Yusuf Hatipoğlu, a Turkish political analyst.
In an interview with TRT World, Hatipoğlu describes the nature of the problem succinctly. “There is a deadly regime that only believes in the policy of genocide, scorched earth and illegal weapons. Where did we expect the refugee to go, even as Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees, while unable to receive and accommodate for more.”
Hatipoğlu believes "the issue is unrelated to the passage of these people from here to there, or their deportation from A to B. We must ask, at the heart of it all, who pushed them to leave? A murderous regime. There needs to either be pressure on the regime to end the killing and destruction, or support for Turkey to establish a safe zone protected from the regime. This is what Turkey wants."
Ragip Soylu, Turkish journalist and a political researcher believes that Turkey is appealing to Europe to engage in Idlib, otherwise "the humanitarian catastrophe will reach even them in the end."
In an interview with TRT World, Soylu noted that Turkey has been calling on Europe to take concrete measures for more than a year, but "its calls have fallen on deaf ears."
On the possibility of Western and European capitals being convinced of the necessity to provide the support required by Turkey in the form of a no-fly zone, Soylu says Europe cannot come to a unified opinion in this regard. Some, he ventures, owe loyalty to Moscow.
He stresses that a no-fly zone was a "difficult deal" to obtain, adding: "This can only be established through the United States, and the latter does not care much about any wave of asylum in Europe."
With the West’s reluctance and the international community hesitance to shoulder their responsibilities towards the worst tragedy of the 21st century, Turkey is trying to alleviate this disaster in every way. The coming days may hold what is needed to bring world leaders to change in policy towards the catastrophe of Idlib.