According to a recent Reuters report: "Over a dozen migrant boats landed on Greece's Lesbos island within minutes of each other on Thursday [August 29] in the first such mass arrival from neighboring Turkey in three years. Pictured: A group of migrants arrives from Turkey on the island of Lesbos, Greece on October 21, 2015. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
In a betrayal of staggering magnitude, the White House announced yesterday that the United States has effectively given Turkey a green light to massacre America's Kurdish allies in northern Syria who fought against ISIS on America's behalf.
US President Trump apparently assured Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a phone call on Sunday October 6th that if Turkey invaded the Kurds' homeland in northern Syria and rescued ISIS fighters captured by the Kurds, US troops would not intervene. According to White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, US troops "will not support or be involved in the operation."
Turkey's Erdoğan government will be invading northern Syria to slaughter the Kurds, America's loyal allies against ISIS; release captured ISIS fighters, and doubtless seek to stay permanently in control of the area. The horror is that it will be doing all this with the tacit blessing of the US.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also seems to have begun making good on his recent threats to flood Europe with Syrian refugees unless, as part of U.S. negotiations with Ankara, a 20-mile "safe zone" is established in northern Syria for them.
From Sept 23-39 alone, approximately 3,710 migrants arrived from Turkey into Greece – apparently the highest number of arrivals for the period since the EU-Turkey refugee deal of 2016.
For the year so far, 46,546 refugees have entered Europe "from Turkish soil, thereby marking a "23 percent increase for the same period last year, regarding the same period last year, Deutsche Welle said on Sunday, citing a European Union report."
According to the Turkish Foreign Ministry -- in a move that would force the American-backed Kurdish armed groups in Syria, whom the Erdoğan government recently threatened to attack, to evacuate the area --
the Erdoğan government is seeking control over the zone in northern Syria, as well.
Addressing his ruling Justice and Development Party on September 5, Erdogan said, in part:
"We have been hosting about 3,650,000 Syrian refugees for the last eight years... [The West] sometimes thanks us [but]... gives us no support. Our expenses have reached $40 billion. The EU has given only $3 billion, but it is not sent to our budget. It goes to AFAD [Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency] and Kızılay [the Turkish Red Crescent] through international organizations... [Europe] has not kept its promises. But we will continue taking that step [to establish a safe zone], whether it supports us or not.
"The number of Syrians that have returned to the areas that we have made safe is now 350,000. But we do not find this sufficient. We want to create such a safe zone... and we have talked about it with Trump and Putin – as well as with Merkel and with Britain -- and asked them to build houses there with us and transfer people to those houses. If we do that, Turkey will relax.
"We have container cities and tent cities [for refugees]. But there is no humane living there. On the one hand, [the West] talks about humane living; on the other hand, they call our offer of a safe zone 'beautiful'... [But when we say], 'Let's start,' they say 'no.'...
"If they do not do [what we are demanding], we will have to open the gates... We have tolerated [housing so many refugees] to a certain extent. Are we the only ones to carry that burden?...
"I am saying this today: We have not got the required support from the world -- particularly from the EU -- to share the burden of the refugees we have been hosting, so we might have to [open the gates] to get the support."
Erdogan's threats are not new, however, and his claims are flawed. In the years since the European Council and Turkey developed a joint "Legislative Train Schedule Towards a New Policy on Migration," Ankara has not lived up to its commitments.
According to the "EU-Turkey Statement & Action Plan:"
"On 18 March 2016, the European Council and Turkey reached an agreement aimed at stopping the flow of irregular migration via Turkey to Europe. According to the EU-Turkey Statement, all new irregular migrants and asylum seekers arriving from Turkey to the Greek islands and whose applications for asylum have been declared inadmissible should be returned to Turkey.
"The agreement followed a series of meetings with Turkey since November 2015 dedicated to deepening Turkey-EU relations as well as to strengthening their cooperation on the migration crisis, with notably the EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan activated on 29 November 2015 and the 7 March 2016 EU-Turkey statement. In addition, on 15 December 2015, the Commission proposed a voluntary humanitarian admission scheme for Syrian Refugees in Turkey.
"In order to break the business model of the smugglers and to offer migrants an alternative to putting their lives at risk, the EU and Turkey decided in March 2016 to work together to end the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU..."
The EU and Turkey agreed -- among other things -- that:
"All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands as of 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey; for every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled to the EU; Turkey will take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for irregular migration opening from Turkey to the EU... The EU will, in close cooperation with Turkey, further speed up the disbursement of the initially allocated €3 billion under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey. Once these resources are about to be used in full, the EU will mobilise additional funding for the Facility up to an additional €3 billion by the end of 2018..."
Neither the projects that the EU has funded -- nor the billions of dollars that the Erdogan government claims to have allocated to the Syrian refugees it is housing -- seem to have helped a good portion of the Syrian refugees live better lives in Turkey. As Gatestone documented in 2016, many Syrian women and girls in Turkey have been victims of forced marriages, polygamy, sexual harassment, rape, trafficking, prostitution and other crimes. Yet, Turkish media outlets have not reported on cases in which the perpetrators have been brought to justice.
Cansu Turan, a social worker with the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV), told Gatestone in August 2016:
"The most important question is why the refugee camps are not open to civil monitoring. Entry to refugee camps is not allowed. The camps are not transparent. There are many allegations as to what is happening in them. We are therefore worried about what they are hiding from us."
Three years later, many Syrians in Turkey are still being victimized. According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report from July this year:
"Turkish authorities are detaining and coercing Syrians into signing forms saying they want to return to Syria and then forcibly returning them there."
The report continues:
"On July 24, 2019, [Turkish] Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu denied that Turkey had 'deported' Syrians but said that Syrians 'who voluntarily want to go back to Syria' can benefit from procedures allowing them to return to 'safe areas.'
"Almost 10 days after the first reports of increased police spot-checks of Syrians' registration documents in Istanbul and forced returns of Syrians from the city, the office of the provincial governor released a July 22 statement saying that Syrians registered in one of the country's other provinces must return there by August 20, and that the Interior Ministry would send unregistered Syrians to provinces other than Istanbul for registration. The statement comes amid rising xenophobic sentiment across the political spectrum against Syrian and other refugees in Turkey..."
This hardly describes the "humane living" that Erdogan claims to seek for the Syrian refugees.
Moreover, this is not the first time that Ankara has threatened Europe with a migrant influx. In a speech in Istanbul in 2016, Erdogan said:
"You [Europe] cried out when 50,000 refugees were at the Kapikule border. You started asking what you would do if Turkey would open the gates. Look at me -- if you go further, those border gates will be open. You should know that."
More recently, on July 21, Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu made a similar statement. "We are facing the biggest wave of migration in history," he said. "If we open the floodgates, no European government will be able to survive for more than six months. We advise them not to try our patience."
Erdogan's government has already started making good on its threats. According to a recent Reuters report:
"Over a dozen migrant boats landed on Greece's Lesbos island within minutes of each other on Thursday [August 29] in the first such mass arrival from neighboring Turkey in three years, officials said, prompting Greece to summon Turkey's ambassador.
"'It surprised us. We haven't seen this type of simultaneous arrivals in this number since 2016,' said Boris Cheshirkov, spokesman for UNHCR [the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] in Greece."
In other words, Turkey has already started "opening the floodgates" to Europe.
This is only part of a larger problem, however, further complicated by the exact number of genuine Syrian and other refugees in Turkey not being clear. This transpired because, nearly two years ago, the UN body responsible for refugees transferred the handling of refugee registration and status to Turkey's Directorate General of Migration Management.
Erdogan claims that his main motivation of forming a "safe zone" in northern Syria is "humanitarian"; that he merely aims to make Syria safe.
The same Turkish government, however, did not care much about the region's security when for years, jihadis were using Turkish-Syrian and Turkish-Iraqi borders to go to Syria and Iraq to join jihadist terrorist organizations. It is these terrorist groups that have largely destroyed Syria and Iraq, and devastated populations there.
In the meantime, Turkey's Foreign Ministry has announced that if "efforts to find common ground with the U.S. prove unsuccessful, Turkey will have to create a safe zone in Syria on its own."
Turkey's desire to establish a "safe zone" in Syria seems, rather, an open expression of Erdogan's government's expansionist, Ottomanist mentality. The Ottoman Empire occupied Syria for 400 years -- from the 16th century to 1918. The Ottoman Empire no longer exists: Today, the region is not within Turkey's borders. So whatever solutions will be implemented there to make Syria "safer" and "more stable" can hardly be made by Turkey.
If Europe surrenders to Erdogan's threats, Erdogan will most likely continue making other demands in exchange for allegedly keeping the migrants and refugees in Turkey -- a promise that the Turkish government has repeatedly threatened to break.
Sezen Şahin is based in Europe.