Profits, threats of Syrian refugees to Turkey

Alwaght- Starting from March 2011, the protests in Syria have developed in 2012 into a full-scale war between the Syrian government’s forces and the takfiri groups. To survive the effects of war, some Syrian people moved from the ISIS-held areas of the country. The situation has gone worse after ISIS terror group has stepped in the conflict.Generally, half of the Syrian population has immigrated abroad due to the risks of the devastating war. During the five years of conflict, nearly 4.5 million Syrian citizens have left their homes and became displaced inside the borders of the country. On the other side, the official and unofficial figures published by the UN and other institutes suggest that 4.5 to 6 million displaced Syrian nationals have left the country in quest of safe living environment.

Meanwhile, a major number of the refugees are from the conflict flashpoints like the eastern, northwestern, central and southern fronts. A majority of the conflict-hit areas are, in fact, Sunni-inhabited regions. Crossing to Turkey from Syria’s northern areas, the migrating Syrians have settled next to the Turkish border areas stretching from the Jabal Turkman and Jabal al-Akrad to the northern borders. What are the threats and opportunities the Syrian refugees are bringing forth to Turkey?

Syrian refugees’ threats to Turkey

So far, Ankara has spent billions of dollars in expenses on the refugees who are entering the Turkish territories with the intention of immigrating to a third-party country. According to the Turkish government and the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has spent $10 billion on the Syrian refugees entering the country’s territory since 2011 and as the number of the refugees is set to surge in 2016, the costs of operating the refugee camps would see a rise. While Turkey has established 22 refugee camps for the displaced Syrians, over 85 percent of them are living sporadically out of the camps in different Turkish cities. This issue, in addition to increasing number of the refugees flowing into Turkey, has forced up the food and housing prices in some areas in Turkey, escalating the tensions existing between the refugees and the Turkish citizens.

In fact, the increased prices and the damage received by the Turkish tourism sector have pushed Turkey to count the social, cultural and security costs of presence of refugees in the country. Meanwhile, the EU has pledged financial support, arrangement of the refugees and help for Turkey to tighten border controls. Receiving $3 billion in aid for support of the refugees, Turkey has called the sum as insufficient, requesting that the EU gives Ankara $5 billion for the aim.

In response to the Turkish demand EU’s officials have said that they could not pay Turkey $5 billion in aids. Lashing out at the UN and some countries, the Turkish officials have accused them of refraining from shouldering a part of the refugees’ responsibility and being unhelpful in pushing Russia to stop its bombing campaign inside Syria. This is coming while amid a new upcoming wave of immigration, Turkey is expecting additional 600,000 refugees to cross the country’s borders. From another dimension, Turkey is worried that members of radical Islamist groups or Kurdish groups could infiltrate Turkey by hiding among the refugees influxes. Actually, as long as the militants of such terror groups as al-Nusra Front are fighting against the forces of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey has no concerns, however, the situation would never remain in the same status. Also, it must be taken into account that the refugee camps could turn into anti-Turkish recruitment and operation centers of the terrorist groups as the ground is gradually being prepared for their activity.

Moreover, since the beginning of 2016 the concerns over security of the EU have experienced a maximal heightening as refugee influxes kept flooding Europe. The EU has grown worries over a remarkable rise of the refugee’s population heading to Europe as well as the threat posed by possible extremist groups’ penetration of Europe beside heavy cost of hosting the large numbers of the immigrants. The refugees rarely move to Europe directly and they mostly choose Turkey as they passing destination to the EU. Therefore, there are concerns that some of the ISIS’ terror organization members could be among the immigrants heading to Europe. In fact, the countries of Schengen area in the EU are sparing no effort to keep crisis away from their borders. The European concerns over growing numbers of the refugees, who pose a major threat to the Union, are coming while the EU’s officials note that it was Turkey’s wrong performance to blame for the refugees’ flooding of Europe, an issue which could badly hit ties between the EU and Ankara.

Syrian refugees’ opportunities to Turkey

The refugees could usually be exploited by the hosting country specifically in war conditions. Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, Turkey has used the potentials of the refugees for recruiting them, involving them in the intended groups, training and deploying them to battle against the central government in Damascus. During the past years, the rebel fighters from the Free Syrian Army, the al-Nusra Front and ISIS have used the two countries’ borders for their movement in the guise of refugees. Aside from this, Ankara has already used the refugees as bargaining chip or for obtaining intelligence and receiving political, security and financial aids from the international organizations and the refugee-related institutions. In addition to this advantage, the refugees, during the crisis period, have called the employers’ attention as cheap labor force in Turkey.

Furthermore, Europe is dealing with the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. Over 1.83 million immigrants have crossed into the European borders only during the 2015, the figures published by EU’s border agency Frontex suggest. Meanwhile, in many analysts’ viewpoint the EU has a very limited time to contain the refugee crisis, otherwise, it would witness collapse of the Schengen area. In a time that NATO has agreed to deploy warships to the Aegean Sea to curb the refugee crisis, President Erdogan has threatened to unleash millions of refugees settled in Turkey on Europe.

It must be well understood that Ankara has an influential role in facilitation of movement of waves of refugees to Europe and it could, to a degree, fulfill its threats of flooding the European countries with the refugees. According to the critics, Turkey has usually used the refugee’s case as a trump card in making deals with the EU, as it is using this card to buy accomplices for its idea of establishing a buffer zone on the Syrian territories for the alleged objective of settling the Syrian refugees in their own land.

Ankara, also, uses this pretext to draw political and security advantages. It seems that the Turks use the refugees issue to press the West politically and propagandistically so that the latter gives them the permission to establish a safe zone in northern Syria. Turkey also makes other uses of the profitable refugee trump card, including like extorting huge financial supports from the EU and Germany and pushing the EU to resume talks with Ankara over Turkey’s EU membership bid. Even more, Turkey would use the same card to press the EU to turn a blind eye to Turkey’s internal issues including the human rights violations, the Kurdish issue and crackdowns on the public freedom. Furthermore, Ankara wants the EU to offer further support to the pro-Turkish moderate Syrian groups, have a hand in any prospective Syria’s peace process and criticize Iran and Russia for siding with the Syrian government.

By Alwaght