Erdogan Issues Warning Turkey Cannot Withstand New ‘Refugee Wave’ from Syria

On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that the country could not handle the newest wave of refugees coming into Turkey from Syria. Erdogan said Turkey “will not bear all alone the burden,” thereby warning other European countries that they will also feel the influx of as many as tens of thousands of refugees currently making their way to Syria’s border with Turkey. As violence continues and escalates within the Idlib province in Syria, more refugees continue to migrate from the country into bordering Turkey. Idlib is the last major region in Syria that remains under the control of rebel forces, leading to an increasingly fierce offensive on the part of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian allied forces, forcing as many as 100,000 people to flee the country, according to the New York Times.

Erdogan spoke at a ceremony on Sunday and addressed this influx of refugees, a total he placed at 80,000 people. “If the violence towards the people of Idlib does not stop, this number will increase even more. In that case, Turkey will not carry such a migrant burden on its own,” Erdogan said in speaking about the situation. “The negative effects of this pressure on us will be an issue felt by all European countries, especially Greece,” Erdogan continued. This comes as a culmination of recent tensions between increased migration from Idlib and Turkey’s ability to house these refugees. The United Nations Security Council made attempts to send more aid from Turkey and Iraq to civilians in Syria, but these resolutions failed after vetoes by Russia and China the previous Friday. United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came out of this vote declaring that China and Russia had “blood on [their] hands” and said in a statement that “Russia’s and China’s vetoes of this resolution demonstrate that these governments simply do not care that the horrible Syrian regime continues to obstruct and deny humanitarian access to its own people.”

Last year, Turkey and Russia reached an agreement to make Idlib a de-escalation zone and prohibit aggressions there, but recently the attacks in the region from Syria and its Russian allies have intensified, leading to the massive influx of those fleeing. Turkey’s concerns over their ability to take in more Syrian refugees are not new. In October of 2019, President Erdogan made a similar threat to “open the doors,” allowing the refugees within their borders to spread into the rest of Europe unless the European Union provided him more assistance in housing refugees. So far, these cries for assistance have been met with little response, and the United Nations Security Council continues to fail to pass resolutions to provide more aid to Turkey due to Chinese and Russian vetoes.

The crisis in Syria is complex and multilayered. It becomes even more so when adding the involvement of Turkey, Russia, the United States, and several other actors. Focusing only on Erdogan’s statements and Turkey’s situation at this specific instance, Erdogan’s scepticism about the ability of Turkey to handle a new influx in refugees is understandable. According to CNN, estimates place the number of refugees who “have sought safety in Turkey since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011” over 3.6 million, making it “the largest refugee population in the world.” Speaking practically, it will be difficult for Turkey to amass the resources necessary to attend to the refugees already within their borders as well as the near one million that seek to enter now. That being said, these Syrian refugees are fleeing years of bloodshed and violence, but the oppressive Assad regime is not much better.

In this way, the international community must make the new homes of these refugees better and more peaceful than the one they are leaving. Turkey and the European Union must work together to reach some compromise where they bear an equal burden for the refugees. Those fleeing Syria are looking for peace; if Turkey instead creates its own conflict with its neighbours, the international community will fail these refugees. There will still be refugees fleeing the oppressive Assad regime, even if the immediate violence stops. Therefore, it is imperative to come to a peaceful agreement and resolution between Turkey and their neighbours that is both aware of their respective capacities and respectful of the needs of these refugees.

Breanna McCann