Arrests and Deportations of Syrians in Turkey increase. The Turkish Government Suspends EU/Turkey Statement. Refugee Arrivals in Greece Triple.
For ‘around ten days, Turkish authorities have increased stop-and-search checks around Istanbul, targeting Syrians without registration papers (including those who are registered in other cities) or for working informally. It is alleged that many have been detained and eventually deported to Syria’. The governorate of Istanbul released a statement to confirm the continuation of deportation practices as part of its efforts ‘to combat against irregular migration’ (Harekact, 22/7/2019, also see Istanbul Governor, 22/7/2019). No legal remedy is available to the affected persons. If true such ad hoc deportations back to Syria are a gross human rights and refugee rights violation. Simultaneously, ‘Ankara announced that the readmission deal with the European Union signed in April 2016 will no longer be functional as long as the bloc continues to not fulfil its promise of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens’ (Daily Sabah, 23/7/2019). Nevertheless, Turkey does not yet seem to let down controls, at least at its sea borders. During the last weeks, the Turkish Coast Guards have stopped over 70 boats a week, twice as many as in May. But despite these efforts, the Aegean Boat Report notes ‘a massive increase of boats towards the Greek Aegean Islands!’ (Aegean Boat Report, 23/7/2019). Since around mid-April numbers have tripled so that recently over 40 boats with 1,100 to 1,300 people per week arrived. However, so far, still only 22,400 arrivals have been recorded in Greece (UNHCR, 24/7/2019), half of the Mediterranean total. In June, there were 80,600 refugees in Greece (UNHCR, 30/7/2019), this is equivalent to almost 600,000 refugees in Germany. If this trend continues total numbers of arrivals in Greece will still be amongst the lowest recorded and only a tenth of the arrivals in 2015 and only half of the annual average.
These latest developments suggest that on the one hand Turkey, or so far at least the governor of Istanbul increases the pressure on Syrians to leave the city and even enforces deportations back to Syria. But because Istanbul provides economic opportunities and community support not found in most other provinces the lives of Syrians becomes more and more unviable. Such raids also create a sense of hostility. Therefore, more people seem to be trying to escape to the EU, and if more people try more will succeed so that the overall numbers of arrivals increase, too. This also illustrates how fragile the overall situation is.
The reasons for this are complex. On the one hand, Turkey is right in claiming that ‘Europe has deserted Turkey on the issue of irregular migration’ (Hurriyet Daily News, 22/7/2019). If indeed, Turkey implements the suspension of the agreement and accordingly relaxes controls more Syrian and other refugees may try making it to the EU. Meanwhile, Turkey’s economy is successively slipping into a crisis. The Lira lost 40 per cent of its value against the dollar, inflation stands at 19 per cent and economic growth is expected to be negative. This results in shrinking incomes and rising unemployment, from 9 per cent last autumn to up to 15 per cent this summer (New York Times, 8/7/2019; Trading Economics, 7/2019). Discontent with the presence of Syrian refugees has further increased from 58 per cent in 2016 to 68 per cent in 2019 (this is highest amongst CHP members, see Centre for Turkish Studies, 4/7/2019). This suggests that the resilience of the Turkish people has been diminishing and with this the so far famous generosity vis a vis Syrian refugees. Finally, these developments must be analysed within the context of national policy. Whereas the oppositional CHP recently won the election for the major of Istanbul the governor is an appointed state official representing the AKP government in Ankara. The current governor is claimed to be sympathetic to radical Islamism and even the Islamic State (ODATV, 17/10/2016). He now seems to be playing the xenophobic card aiming to regain public confidence in the AKP government.
To conclude, the government appears to be changing its course with regards to Syrian refugees and aims to demonstrate to the public that they tackle the problem and even bring down the numbers. Meanwhile, the EU has been facing the resurrection of the illiberal right, which caused a crisis of the EU and prevents to making any concessions with regards to the refugees in Turkey or elsewhere. As a consequence, Syrian and other refugees are sandwiched by these policies and are either sacrificed and denied international protection for the sake of maintaining the stability of the EU and Turkey alike or defy these policies and manage escaping to the EU.
This blogpost also appeared on the website of DeZIM Institute.