March 01, 2020

Europe Risks New Migration Meltdown as Erdogan Opens Floodgates
(Bloomberg) -- Europe risks a repeat of a migration crisis that five years ago tested its political limits and physical borders as increasing numbers of refugees gather anew on its doorstep.The rapidly evolving emergency came after Turkey signaled it won’t stand in the way of people using its territory to escape Syria and other war-ravaged countries, as thousands of desperate asylum seekers flocked toward the Greek border and security forces deployed tear gas to hold them back.Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said more than 76,000 refugees have left the country through Edirne province, which is bordering both Greece and Bulgaria, as of 9:55 a.m. on Sunday, according to state-run Anadolu agency. It wasn’t clear if all refugees crossed into Europe or some were stuck in no-man’s land.With more expected to arrive, the prospect of a bloody showdown looms in a continent already gripped by fear and travel restrictions over the spread of the coronavirus, which is morphing into a pandemic and defies national frontiers.The situation began to spiral when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked for European Union support after Turkey suffered its biggest single-day military casualties in decades in Syria. The EU is in a bind: it opposes Turkey’s campaign in Idlib province to support the last major rebel holdout against Syrian forces.Memories of the 2015 refugee crisis linger. At best, the EU hinted it can speed up aid to Turkey to stop another exodus.That prompted Erdogan to proclaim that his country can no longer accommodate people fleeing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. “What did we do yesterday? We opened the doors,” he said Saturday. The flow of migrants “may reach about 25,000-30,000 today. We will not close the doors hereafter.”The stakes for neighboring Greece are escalating exponentially. The government plans to build more ring-fenced refugee camps despite widespread protests from local communities, and even as existing facilities have drawn universal condemnation for their inhumane conditions.On a political and economic level, another wave of migration could derail a delicate recovery not only for Europe’s most indebted state — but for the entire region. Anti-immigration populist politicians, from Italy to Germany, are poised to seize the opportunity to go on the attack.Italy’s Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-migrant League, said in a Facebook video on Saturday that he would not accept Turkey letting refugees into the EU. “Now the Turks say everyone’s free, everyone can go, we were joking,” Salvini said. “No, we’re willing to be kind, but not to be treated like idiots.”How Committed?On Friday, the EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, said he’d received reassurances that Turkey “remains committed” to a 2016 deal under which Ankara stemmed the flow of migrants toward Europe in exchange for financial assistance. That now seems entirely up for debate. Erdogan’s spokesman said Ankara would “loosen” its stance on refugees if Idlib falls to Assad’s forces.The humanitarian crisis would get worse unless the Syrian government stops attacks, Erdogan told French President Emmanuel Macron in a phone call late Saturday, according to a readout from his office.Erdogan urged the EU and the international community to share the burden of refugees and said Turkey would like to see NATO clearly show its solidarity in practice.The current financial arrangement with Turkey helped stem Europe’s biggest refugee wave since World War II. It stopped displaced Syrians from entering the EU via Greece after the flow of people unleashed a wave of populism that had long-lasting consequences, not least the U.K. referendum to leave the EU that climaxed with one of the bloc’s biggest contributors acrimoniously exiting.Rift ReopensThe tension is palpable. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who was in government with a far-right party in the past, took to Twitter to say there must be no repeat of 2015 -- or he will be forced to take unilateral action to protect Austria’s borders.Germany, meanwhile, finds itself in a leadership vacuum. Angela Merkel, who took a bold stand in 2015 to welcome refugees, is in her twilight years and her governing party is in the throes of a fierce battle over who will take over — a centrist like herself or someone more conservative who will accommodate the growing anti-immigration sentiment.Merkel’s diminished stature also highlights the EU’s failure to tackle regional crises, from the wars in Syria and Libya, to engagement with Turkey’s unpredictable leader.Border CrossingsAmid the political paralysis, Greece took steps to prevent more than 4,000 illegal border crossings and arrested 66 people.Turkey continues to carry out retaliatory strikes on Syrian soldiers. Its forces have killed 2,100 Syrian troops this year and there’s no sign that Erdogan plans to scale back. How Turkey manages its relationship with Russia, the other key player in Syria, remains to be seen. Western powers have faded into the background.Russia has denied involvement in the attack on Turkish troops. Turkish officials, for their part, have criticized Moscow for not doing more to rein in Assad. Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin may meet next week after the two men talked on Friday. The conversation was tense.“I told Putin: ‘What are you doing there? If you’re going to build a base, build it but get out of our way’,” Erdogan said of the call in his speech.(Updates with higher number of refugees leaving Turkey in third paragraph)\--With assistance from Constantine Courcoulas, Jonathan Stearns, Sotiris Nikas, Boris Groendahl, John Follain and Richard Bravo.To contact the reporters on this story: Cagan Koc in Istanbul at ckoc2@bloomberg.net;Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at shacaoglu@bloomberg.net;Nikos Chrysoloras in Brussels at nchrysoloras@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Onur Ant at oant@bloomberg.net, Flavia Krause-Jackson, Paul AbelskyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
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