GP Insights # 145, 14 September 2019
Turkey's President Recep Tayyib Erdogan has announced to send millions of Syrian refugees back. Erdogan intends to settle refugees in an area controlled by the US and Kurds across the Syrian border. He also has threatened to push refugees into Europe if a safe zone is not created across its southeastern border along Syria.
What is the background?
It has been a long-standing demand from Ankara that a ‘buffer zone’ be created to house the refugees from Syria. Other countries having stake hold in Syria have not agreed to such an idea so far. Erdogan is getting impatient on this. For the last few weeks, authorities of major cities in Turkey have been forcing Syrians to leave the town. In some places, many have been picked up and sent them back to the border area between Turkey and Syria.
Major internal political developments in Turkey, which has seen setbacks to Erdogan’s party and subsequently his popularity, is pushing him to take hard stands. Conditions of employment and economic growth are taking nose dive. Locals are questioning Erdogan's policies and also blaming Syrians for stealing their jobs.
Second, Erdogan is unhappy with the US, for the delay in establishing a "safe zone", though the latter has agreed to it during last year. There is tension between the US and Turkey since the latter has decided to purchase Russian S-400 missile Defense system. The US has expressed its disappointment by pulling Turkey out of F-35 Programme.
Third, the US has agreed to withdraw its forces from the northern Syrian border. This region has the YGP militia; for the US it is an American ally, but Turkey has designated it as a terror group. The US has suspended the withdrawal plan, ensuring its ally Kurds to be protected.
What does it mean?
First, Turkey is planning to take unilateral action. Erdogan's statement, "with the help of our friends, if need be, would help settle at least a million Syrians in safe zone" is likely to create more tensions with Turkey. Sending millions of refugees back to the southern border is expected to draw an international ire.
Second, Turkey seems to be more worried about ‘keeping in check’ of the Kurdish rebels, whom it considers to be a security threat.
Third, if there is a disapproval of resettlement of the refugees, Europe risks the agreement it has with Turkey in keeping Syrian refugees from entering into Europe. It has given billions of dollars to Turkey to hold off the flow.
Finally, Syrians living in Turkey once again face a harsh reality that no matter which side of the border they live on, they are victimised for political gains.