By Dina Lisnyansky, Ph.D.

At the end of February 2020 Turkish government announced its reluctance to furthermore restrain the millions of Syrian refugees on its territory and opened the way for them to cross its European border to Greece and The Republic of Bulgaria. On the same day, an estimate of 18000 refugees have crossed into Europe and, quoting Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “Dozens of thousands will cross the border every day”.

According to an official statement of the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, over 24000 attempts of illegal entry to Greece were stopped by the Greek border police. As seen on various video reports- arrests were made in the villages near the crossing. Other asylum seekers were stopped in violent clashes with the Greek police.

Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, millions of Sunni Syrians were displaced.

3.7 million Syrians are residing in temporary refugee camps in Turkey since then. About 1.8 million refugees were permitted to cross the border into Europe in 2015. However, the flood of illegal immigrants, as well as the economic and social changes due to the need to accommodate them, increased the internal pressure within EU nation-states. This led to a new agreement that was set between Turkey and the EU in 2016 and included some financial obligations on part of the European Union in favor of the Turkish government.

According to Erdogan, these obligations were not fulfilled by the EU, while the need to attend to the refugees’ further accommodation and absorption put enormous strain on the Turkish economy.

“The EU must keep their promises to the Republic of Turkey, otherwise we will not be able to further keep the refugees in Turkey”, announced Recep Tayyip Erdogan prior to opening a way for the refugees to cross into Europe through the Greek border.

The current crisis will need to be resolved as soon as possible. Ankara’s decision to open the border is, in fact, an attempt to pressure the EU states to take sides in the newly emerged Turkish-Syrian conflict, where the Russian Federation is taking a vital part while aiding the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against Turkey in Idlib.

It is obvious that Erdogan’s decision to open the way for a new flood of immigrants into the EU should be regarded as a way of influencing the EU states to put pressure on the Russian Federation on this matter. Moreover, in the last months, Turkey has been obsessively dealing with naval borders, while trying to widen its control in the Mediterranean Sea. This new attempt to reestablish naval sovereignty derives from the understanding that a recent East Mediterranean energy pact was set between Greece, Cyprus, and Israel under the EU support, while Turkey was left out. This factor will remain a strong motivation for further pressure Erdogan’s will set on the EU states, while the Syrian refugees and their restraining will remain a bargaining chip in the relations between the two.