Origins Of The Crisis
In late February, following Turkey’s announcement opening its borders towards continental Europe, thousands of migrants and refugees made their way to the Greek border. This resulted in violence on both sides, with Greece and European Union claiming a coordinated attack and Turkey an overwhelmed system. Both sides are accusing the other of human rights abuses, with Turkish media reporting extreme violence directed towards migrants attempting to cross the border, especially in the north of Greece. Meanwhile, media circulated by Greek news sources depict Turkish officials assisting the migrants by firing tear gas over the land border and accompanying unsafe dinghies into Greek waters.
Executive Director of the External Borders Agency, Fabrice Leggeri stated “They travelled to Turkey in the hope of finding an opportunity to cross into Greece and Europe”, referring to the thousands attempting to cross into EU territory. Despite his sympathy, he underlined that an action plan is needed to thwart any new arrivals. Meanwhile, Greece has suspended the asylum process for a month, a move condemned by Amnesty International and the UN. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan likened the situation to Nazi concentration camps, an accusation the Greek Jewish Community characterized as “unacceptable and deplorable”.
Both sides are committing atrocities that primarily impact innocents. It is worth looking into the motives behind the actions to better understand them. On the Greek/EU side, the strict measures send a clear message that their sovereignty and integrity will not be compromised. The move stems from a wave of right-wing populism and extremism that arose after the last massive influx of migrants in 2015. In Turkey, the borders were opened under the premise that the influx of millions of Syrian refugees and migrants of varying origins is unsustainable. The timing of the decision, however, is highly suspicious, as it comes immediately after a deadly Turkish military operation in Idlib, Syria.
The current issue is a culmination of the Syrian conflict, internal European politics, right wing populism and the complicated relationship between Greece and Turkey, to name a few. The stance of Greece and the EU is motivated by political stability and maintaining a climate that is less tense than it was in 2015. Turkey aims to further her internal and international agenda, particularly that of military intervention. The bottom line is that innocent people are being used as pawns in a very high stake game of chicken, with each side hoping the other stands down.
An End In Sight?
In conclusion, the situation continues to escalate, with neither side willing to compromise, at least for the time being. Whatever the solution is, the danger of destabilizing the fragile balance in the European political landscape continues to be a present force. Similarly, as long as the war rages in Syria, those who have been displaced, wounded and persecuted will continue to be used and even exploited as a political tool. Human rights organizations have been strangely quiet on this aspect of the conflict, which gives little hope for a swift and effective solution. In the meantime, the northern Greek-Turkish border remains an active ground for atrocities.