Again we see them on the news, migrants flocking to the borders and the human traffickers going about their “business” in front of the cameras. As thousands of migrants seek to cross the border from Turkey to Greece and Bulgaria- some getting injured and dying whilst doing so - authorities talk of them as if they are cheap tokens. Not only in Turkey but in the EU countries as well.
Once again, it seems like President Erdoğan’s “refugee card” will work with the EU, which panics as it seems hordes of people rushing to its border. On Monday, a few MPs from the Netherlands suggested “giving more money to Turkey”. This might delay the problem but it cannot be a solution. Money does not entail taking responsibility for this crisis. It can only bolster Erdoğan and his policies.
Much confusion and false information prevails, which only feeds the panic and stirs up xenophobia in EU member states. But are there millions of migrants actually on their way, as Erdoğan claims? And are there wiser, more humane ways to address the situation?
Turkey’s Interior Minister Soylu claimed that over 130,000 migrants have left the country, but this far form the truth. On Tuesday, Greek authorities confirmed that 75 refugees had crossed over. Observers in Edirne say the number of people waiting at the buffer zone amount to a few thousand, not a hundred thousand.
Sibel Karadağ, a research assistant at Koç University and a Yale University fellow, says there is no system in Turkey to confirm that a hundred thousand have crossed. She also believes the current flow of migrants can not be sustained by Turkey:
“I don’t believe the government has intends to send more people to the border, let alone millions. I rather see it as a diplomatic tactic. Actually, what we are forced to see in this tragedy is nothing new. The migration wave, which reached its climax in 2015, has been ongoing for years. In 2020, it is estimated that it will reach a new high but then again, we’re not talking of millions of people as officials claim. Yes, we have to talk about this tragedy happening right now, but keep in mind that the tragedy and the problems will continue even if things get sorted out on the recent situation.”
Second, the “refugee card” is discussed as a part of the Syrian conflict, though Syrians are a minority amongst the migrants who flocked to the borders. Artı TV reporter Nalin Oztekin, who spend 4 days along the border, says the overwhelming majority are Afghans. Palestinians, Iranians, as well people from Somalia and Bangladesh are those who desperately try to cross the border as they were told that not only Turkey, but Greece opened its borders.
“Everyone I talked to said they left their countries because there was a war going on for 30, 40 years and nothing will be solved. They arrived in Turkey in order to go to the West, where they hope to find a job, a better life for their children. When they were told that the borders were opened, they left their jobs, if they had any, their kids left school and they sold anything they had left when they were told to be taken to the border. They want to leave Turkey no matter what because they are fed up with racism and economic problems.”
Sibel Karadağ, who worked for years at Lesvos camps and rescue operations in the Aegean Sea, fears that most of these people will try the sea upon realizing they can’t make it from land. Previously, 6 to 7 dinghies sailed from Turkey to the Greek islands every day. Now it’s 13 to 16 per day, she says.
“I think it’s a problem to see this as a crisis of a few days. The videos we see now, where the Greek coast guards attempt to halt the dinghy by speeding up, overturning, is just a routine. This has been ongoing for years. If the dinghy could get beyond the Turkish coast guards, this is what happens. Thousands of people died in these waters, and they die as we speak. I’m afraid more will follow.”
Six days after Ankara announced it would open the border gates, humanitarian aid is sorely missing at the Turkish-Greek border. Thousands of people have to eat, sleep, change diapers in the same place. No food, no water, no hygiene, no tents. “They eat cabbage from the fields, they use their scarfs as diapers,” says Nalin Özteki from Artı TV.
As Greece vows to take harsher measures than ever and opens fire “to stop” migrants, several have been reported to be severely injured. One person died after being shot a few days ago, though the Greek Police refused to acknowledge this.
No bullets, no bans, no restrictions, no walls will stop these people. No funds will stop bullying governments to take care of refugees. No democracy or human rights lecture will have a meaning if we continue to ignore this tragedy.
A new way of thinking, acting and policy making is necessary. The refugee issue will remain the greatest problem of our times. Not only because of the wars the West is involved in, but because of the neoliberal system's failings, including climate crisis.