Crux | Dale Gavlak | March 5, 2020
Turkey and Greece are trading blame following the deaths of Syrian refugees trying to flee to Europe, but some observers believe Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is weaponizing the Syrian refugee humanitarian crisis.
A 6-year-old Syrian boy drowned when a boat full of refugees heading to a Greek island capsized March 2, as thousands of migrants, encouraged by Turkey, attempt to push through Greece’s land and sea borders. Elsewhere, a Syrian man trying to enter Europe illegally was shot and killed near Turkey’s land border with Greece.
“Of course, we sympathize with the Syrians, whether displaced inside the country, others who are refugees in neighboring countries, those who lost their lives or are risking their lives,” Father Emanuel Youkhana told Catholic News Service by phone from northern Iraq.
Youkhana, a priest, or archimandrite, of the Assyrian Church of the East, runs Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, which helps Syrians recently displaced by the Turkish military invasion in northeastern Syria and fighting in their homeland, as well as Iraqis uprooted by Islamic State militants.
“What is tricky is that they (Syrian refugees) are being used as a tool. It’s a very clear game by Erdogan. Of the refugees we are seeing on TV trying to reach Greece, the majority of them are not Syrians, but Afghans, Iraqis, etc. Erdogan claims Syrian refugees, but he is pushing and facilitating even for non-Syrians to flee to Greece. It is really terrible,” Youkhana said.
Erdogan ordered Turkey’s gates to Europe, specifically Greece, opened to refugees and migrants until the European Union meets his demand to add some $3.5 billion in funding for the refugees’ stay in Turkey, in addition to the approximately $6 billion Turkey has already received. About 12,500 migrants are estimated to be waiting on the Turkish side of the Greek border.
The action violates a deal Turkey struck with the EU to close its borders following the 1 million migrants who flooded into Europe from Turkey during the 2015-16 migrant crisis. The swell has strained European security and welfare systems and increased support for far-right political parties.
Josep Borrell, European Union foreign policy chief, and Charles Michel, president of the European Council, met with Erdogan and other top officials March 4, promising an additional $189 million in aid for vulnerable groups in Syria.
Borrell said the EU recognized the “difficult situation Turkey is facing” but that Turkey’s decision to open the way for migrants could “only make the situation worse.”