A dispute between Greece and Turkey has arisen following a recent ruling in a Greek court to block the extradition of eight Turkish soldiers who were involved in a failed coup attempt. In response, Turkey has threatened to cancel a migration deal with Greece and warships from both nations briefly had a standoff in the Aegean Sea.
On the 26th January, the Greek Supreme Court ruled against extraditing eight Turkish soldiers who were accused of being involved in a July 15, 2016 coup attempt and were branded ‘traitors’ by the Turkish government. The soldiers escaped from Ankara in a Turkish military helicopter on July 16, 2016, and landed in Alexandroupoli airport in Greece seeking political asylum. The soldiers have denied taking part in the coup and are fearful of their lives being in danger if returned to Turkey.
The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, in response to the incident, commented that “We are evaluating what we can do. There is a migration deal we signed, including a re-admission deal with Greece, and we are evaluating what we can do, including the cancellation of the re-admission deal with Greece.”
This situation is problematic, as there are many diplomatic factors to consider. Turkey is a signatory to the European Treaty on Extradition, which gives Greece the right to refuse extradition for political and military crimes. However, the Turkish government has ignored this and, instead have stressed that the attempted coup was a threat to their democratically-elected government. The Greek Prime Minister originally released a statement condemning the coup attempt and started proceedings to charge the soldiers of illegal entry into the country. Nonetheless, the Greek judiciary, which is an independent body, and the Greek Supreme Court criminal prosecutors reached the verdict that due to the European Treaty of Extradition and European Convention on Human Rights, the soldiers could not be extradited and can be deemed refugees as they are of risk to crimes punishable by death in Turkey, a country seeking to bring back the death penalty. The decision reached by the Greek courts cannot be overturned by the Greek government.
In terms of the threat by Turkey to cancel the migration deal, the New Democracy Chief, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has responded by saying: “I would like to remind that the deal made by Turkey is not just with Greece. It is an agreement with the European Union as a whole and one that carries financial benefits for Turkey.” The agreement involves Turkey taking back all refugees in Greece from March 20, 2016, while the EU would take back the same amount of Syrian refugees from Turkey. This would discourage refugees from making the dangerous journey by sea from Turkey to Greece. In exchange, Turkey would receive financial aid, visa-free travel, and accelerated EU membership talks.
Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Greece are essential for handling Europe’s migration crisis and to control migration to Europe. Although Turkey’s responses, so far, have been alarming. After the extradition verdict on the January 29, the Greek defense ministry reported that a Turkish navy missile boat with “two special forces rafts” had entered Greek water near the Imia islets, in the Aegean Sea. The Turks later left the area after being notified of the violation, but this incident has further added to the tension between the two countries.
A dispute over this same area had flared in 1996, when the two countries sent marines to neighbouring islands, as a sign of confrontation. Greece and Turkey only removed their troops after diplomatic pressure by the United States. The two countries have also disputed over the years on the question of the ethnically split Cyprus.
Based on these recent incidents, diplomacy talks will be the key to securing peace. So far, Greece has acted within reason, by stressing that the decisions reached by the Greek courts reflect the international law and treaties, and are not foreign policy tactics aimed only at Turkey. Although the statements by the Turkish government have been concerning, the migration deal cannot be suddenly canceled. It is also important to note that the EU has called for asylum seeker claims to be sped up in order to rescue the deal. The EU-Turkey Migration Deal has attracted controversy, with Amnesty International stating that Turkey is not a safe country for asylum.
Due to Greece’s and Turkey’s geographical proximity, they will always share the migration crisis and will need to negotiate, especially as Greece simultaneously struggles with an influx of refugees and a financial crisis. With the EU providing Turkey with financial aid for refugees and inclusion in EU talks, this can provide an incentive for Turkey to cooperate. Thus, as this situation unfolds, Turkey must see the broader picture and avoid destabilizing what was an improving relationship with Greece. Nonetheless, the EU-Turkey Migration Deal should be re-evaluated to ensure the safety of refugees. The EU needs to ensure that Turkey will be able to ethically handle asylum seeker claims and that all European countries will also take on the shared global responsibility of relocating refugees to safe housing.