After over three years of keeping refugees within its borders to prevent them from entering Europe, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that Turkey has begun to allow refugees to travel from Turkey to Europe. Most of the refugees are Syrian and have been fleeing Syria since a civil war broke out in 2011. The crisis began in 2015 when massive amounts of people began leaving war-torn Syria; over one million migrants crossed the Aegean Sea into Europe. This is one of the biggest refugee crises the world has ever seen. The governments of the countries of Europe decided that they could not handle the amount of refugees that wanted to enter Europe so they have been paying the Turkish government to keep them in Turkey. This happened in 2016, when the Turkish government signed a deal with the European Union that said Turkey would prevent refugees from crossing through Turkey to get to the EU. In the years since the agreement was struck, Turkey has repeatedly told Europe, and the world, that it is overburdened and cannot continue to hold so many refugees. Turkey is home to the largest number of refugees in the world, including around 3.6 million Syrians. Despite receiving money from the EU to help with the refugee situation, Turkey still feels it cannot handle this large amount of refugees. This has been an issue in the past as Erdogan has threated to open the border before unless more international support was given to Turkey.
The situation was made even more tense by an incident on the Turkey’s border with Greece last Saturday. Greece and Bulgaria are the two European countries that border Turkey. After the announcement that Turkey would no longer keep the refugees from entering Europe, Greece locked down its land and sea borders “to the maximum level possible,” according to Al Jazeera. There are currently thousands of refugees stuck on the Turkish-Greek border with nowhere to go. Last Saturday, Greek riot police fired tear gas at the refugees that had gathered on the border.
The Prime Minster of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said Greece “does not bear any responsibility for the tragic events in Syria and will not suffer the consequences of decisions taken by others.” President Erdogan said, “We will not close those doors…Why? Because the European Union should keep its promises.” He also added that “[Turkey is] not in a situation to handle a new wave of refugees.” New waves of refugees from Syria were expected to enter Turkey’s borders in the coming months as the war in Syria worsens. Since December, it is estimated that around 900,000 people in northwest Syria have been displaced. Idlib, one of the rebel strongholds in Syria, has faced attack after attack recently. As these attacks move further north in the region, people are forced into tighter and tighter areas near the border with Turkey. The opening of Turkey’s border to Europe appears to be Turkey’s attempt to pressure European leaders to intervene in Syria. Turkey has long been involved in the Syrian conflict and seeks military help to end the war.
The conflict in Syria is mainly between the Syrian government and the rebel groups. The government is supported by Russia and the rebel groups are supported by Turkey. Erdogan has threatened to launch an operation in the Idlib region by the end of the month if the Syrian government does not withdraw. The Turkish President told Parliament, “An operation in Idlib is imminent…We are counting down, we are making our final warnings.” Russia and Turkey have been staying in contact with one another to prevent the further escalation of tensions. However, after Turkey’s threat, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov stated, “If we are talking about an operation against the legitimate authorities of the Syrian Republic and armed forces of the Syrian Republic this would, of course, be the worst case scenario.” The Turkish government has been taking harder stances on the situation since Syrian government attacks killed 13 Turkish military personnel in Idlib.
Obviously, what really needs to happen is international attention and focus needs to be shifted and directed towards ending the conflict in Syria. The civil war in Syria caused so many Syrians to have to flee their homes. With nowhere to go, the Syrian refugees tried to get into Europe and when they were denied, they went to Turkey. The situation in Syria only got worse, so people only continued to leave in huge numbers. Many European countries did not want to deal with the problem or deal with the effects of admitting refugees. Therefore, the EU paid Turkey to keep most of the refugees off European borders. Turkey took in more and more refugees and soon the money was not enough as Turkey repeatedly told the EU that they could not handle this amount of refugees. Some European counties began to take more refugees but, still, it was not enough.
In order to solve the problem completely and finally, the conflict in Syria must come to an end and a peace and rebuilding process needs to start in the country as well. However, the immediate problem also needs a solution. There are people with no homes and nowhere to go. Right now, thousands of refugees are stuck between the Turkish and Greek border in a sort of “no man’s land.” The refugees who have fled the violence in Syria are facing horrible conditions multiplied by the uncertainty of their situation. European countries need to take more refugees. The EU must allocate more money and resources to help take in and care for the new refugees and to implement programs that will make the transition smoother. Additionally, countries such as Canada and the United States, especially, should be doing more for the situation. The U.S. has large amounts of resources and space for refugees. Even considering their physical distance from the situation, the U.S. is doing very little to fix any part of the problem. The outlook on this horrible situation also needs to change. Most of the world’s governments see these refugees as a problem that can be pushed off, but these are thousands of people who are fleeing terribly violent situations and need help. They are not a bargaining chip and they cannot be ignored. They deserve safety and refuge, wherever that may be.
The conflict in Syria must come to an end. International governments need to focus on the main problem instead of just complaining about its effects. The European Union, the United States, Turkey, and Russia need to come to a conclusion to peacefully and decidedly end the civil war in Syria. After the violence has stopped, a peace process needs to take effect so that people can safely and happily live in the country without fear of continued violence and danger.
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