03:43 GMT06 August 2021
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    Tensions escalating on the Turkish-Greek border could have been orchestrated by Turkey to impose pressure on the EU and the UN to resolve the Idlib stalemate, suggests Canadian academic and migration expert Anna Triandafyllidou.

    On 29 February, Ankara announced that it is incapable of coping with the wave of refugees fleeing Idlib due to the recent escalation of tensions in the province and is therefore opening the country's border to allow "millions" of migrants find shelter in Europe.

    Over the weekend thousands of migrants were reportedly transferred to the Greek-Turkish border by the Turkish authorities from the country's refugee camps. Commenting on the situation unfolding on the EU's doorstep Angela Merkel condemned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's approach, stressing that "despite all the willingness to negotiate on providing yet more support [for Turkey], it is wholly unacceptable to then take this out on refugees".

    For his part, French President Emmanuel Macron signaled "full solidarity" with Greece and Bulgaria amid the refugee influx on Sunday, and vowed to provide the two countries with "immediate assistance to protect borders".

    Is Erdogan Fulfilling His Threat?

    Greece has managed to block nearly 10,000 migrants from trying to enter the country from Turkey over the past 24 hours.

    Erdogan has repeatedly threatened the EU that it would unleash over 3 million refugees hosted by the country on Europe under various pretexts. In December 2019, Brussels announced that €6 billion in aid to Turkey "to support refugees and local communities in need [had been] fully mobilised". Erdogan, however, complained that the EU had failed to deliver on its 2016 promise citing growing refugee pressure. To address the issue German Chancellor Angela Merkel hinted at the possibility of additional EU aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey in late January 2020.

    Anna Triandafyllidou, Canada Excellence Research Chair in migration and integration at Ryerson University in Toronto, believes that Turkey is using refugees to solve its geopolitical problems.

    She notes that while the ongoing movement of refugees may seemingly bear some resemblance to what happened in 2015, it is quite different as it is by no means a "spontaneous" movement. According to Triandafyllidou, the border crisis is completely orchestrated as the people were allegedly bussed to the neutral zone and even supposedly threatened with tear gas to push them to walk towards Greece. She draws attention to the fact that those seen on the border with Greece are only young men, "which is also telling - because the refugees from Syria are generally, families".

    "What have the refugees or migrants who go to the border been told? Because this is surely misinformation - because I couldn't see why, even if one is desperate, they would rationally go camp on the border. It's still pretty much winter in the north of Greece".

    The academic believes that the migrants "are just a weapon in the hands of the one at this moment". "I think it's all about geopolitics", Triandafyllidou remarks.

    'It's Greece's Right to Close the Border'

    Having said that as a university professor she is unhappy the refugees have to go through this, Triandafyllidou opines that "right now, unfortunately, Greece's right to close the border and I think Greece is not denying the right to asylum, but rather denying the use of migrants and refugees as a weapon in geopolitics".

    "I think that's where the EU most importantly needs to intervene", the professor stresses. "So I think what the EU should be doing is, is confront this at the geopolitical, much wider level, so what is happening in the region and how the EU can mediate between perhaps Russia, Turkey, the US and all the powers involved in the Syrian conflict".

    On 5 March, the Turkish president and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are expected to meet in Moscow in order to discuss the Idlib crisis. Erdogan previously mulled over participation in a four-way summit on Syria with the heads of Russia, Germany, and France within the so-called Istanbul format.  

    About five years ago Europe was shattered by a refugee crisis seeing an influx of over a million people in 2015. Since then the migrant flows have abated somewhat, partially due to the EU-Turkish agreement under which Ankara agreed to host over 3 million destitute Syrians in its refugee camps. Following the refugee crisis as well as Brussels' attempts to impose obligatory refugee quotas on EU member states the bloc has seen the rise of Eurosсeptic parties and their impressive performance during local and EU elections.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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    Turkey, Greece, Germany, France, refugee crisis, Idlib, Syria
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