Sinem Akgül-Açıkmeşe

Professor of International Relations at Kadir Has University. She is researching and teaching on security issues and European integration.

Photo of migrants off Turkey’s Çeşme is taken from the website of the Turkish Coast Guard.

When ‘security’ is at stake, civil liberties might be suppressed, laws might be violated, inhumanity might be justified. Then, security befalls as the enemy of human beings as it is their rights, freedoms and living conditions which are extremely endangered.

For the last two weeks, it has been such a case of invocation of security in order to protect Europe’s borders with high costs of inhumanity for the refugees. As tragedy unfolded in Idlib and Turkey decided to allow refugees crossing into Europe by ‘opening the doors’ as a consequence, thousands of migrants fled to the borders with the expectation of passage to European soil.

The latest humanitarian crisis at Turkey’s borders evoked the dreadful memories and images of influx of migrants to Europe back in 2015. In order to prevent and manage further catastrophe, the EU made a deal with Turkey in March 2016, which included the ‘1 to 1’ formula. Accordingly, in exchange of each Syrian person that fled irregularly to Greek islands to be returned to Turkey, a Syrian person in Turkey would be resettled to the EU.

As of February 2020, 25.951 Syrians have been resettled into the EU in accordance with ‘1 to 1’ formula (Directorate General of Migration Management). However, resettlement to Europe is just a marginal drop in the ocean, as Turkey hosts around 3.5 million Syrian refugees under temporary protection scheme. The EU was also ready to pay the price, and promised to allocate 6 billion Euros under the Facility for Refugees. Thus, this deal has considerably served to the anti-immigrant discourses of populist leaders in Europe back then and now, who aimed at securitizing borders by not admitting asylum-seekers.

The deal is on knife’s edge

The migration deal of 2016 also included a roadmap of reviving Turkey and EU relations. It pledged measures for re-energizing the accession talks, upgrading the Customs Union and ensuring visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the EU. At the time, the EU was criticized for not acting as a normative actor, since it overlooked Turkey’s insufficient fulfillment of political accession criteria and promised unrealistic objectives, in exchange for keeping Europe’s borders closed to the refugees. Turkey has mostly secured the land and sea borders closed since then, whereas the EU has failed day by day in delivering its assurances of reviving Turkey-EU relations apart from funding for refugees.

The latest refugee crisis exposed that the deal was on a knife’s edge. As Turkey announced that the doors are open and refugees immediately made their way to the bordering regions, Greece responded through military means at its border with Turkey. The European Union immediately expressed its solidarity with Greece. The EU Ministers of Home Affairs showed the Union’s readiness to deploy European Border and Coast Guard Agency’s (Frontex) rapid border intervention at their meeting on March 4. EU Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen described Greece as Europe’s ‘shield’ in deterring irregular migrants. The EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs met extraordinarily on March 6 and confirmed that ‘illegal crossings will not be tolerated’ and ‘they will protect EU external borders’. Moreover, Turkey was invited to implement fully the provisions of the 2016 EU-Turkey migration deal to ensure that Syrian refugees remain in Turkey.

It’s not Europe whose under attack

Meanwhile, refugees have been trapped without sufficient food, proper clothing and shelter at a virtually ‘No Man’s Land’ between Greece and Turkey. For what? For a fortress Europe, for serving the populist tendencies of anti-immigration in the EU… Yet again, in this crisis, asylum-seeking as a basic human right has been thwarted through violent means, including capsizing the boats of civilians, teargassing the children, and risking the lives of many whose sole desire is refuge to Europe.

Thus, Europe’s border security became the refugees’ enemy. One should never forget that borders are threatened not by innocent refugees, but by human-smugglers and criminals. Also, it is neither Greece and Turkey as littorals of the Aegean nor Europe under attack, but the guiltless displaced people are…

Had Europe followed its pledge of a normative power and a value-driven security community, then the situation would not result in the securitization of EU’s borders at the expense of humanity, but one of human security. In reaction to the ruthless policies of member states and the EU against the refugee crisis, people around Europe began portraying the refugees as victims who needed to be safeguarded. So, we should keep our hopes up high, as people in Greece and in other European countries have started protesting against border securitization with inhumane costs.