New refugee crisis strikes Europe

By George N. Tzogopoulos
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, March 7, 2020
Adjust font size:
Migrants and refugees are seen behind a wired fence at the borderline between Greece and Turkey near the closed Kastanies border crossing in northeastern Greece, where thousands gathered near the Evros River in an attempt to cross into Greece, on March 2, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

When the new European Commission was appointed, foreign policy was largely considered one of the priorities for the next five years. President Ursula von der Leyen's "geopolitical commission" seeks to strengthen Europe's international presence and even elaborate on military capabilities.

However, while words are easy, real problems provide an opportunity to test the political will of those involved.

The beginning of March 2020 finds the EU embroiled in coping with a serious deterioration of the refugee crisis.

Turkey has decided to refrain from stopping refugees who want to go on to Europe. Chaos has been generated on the Greek-Turkish border at the Evros River while several Greek islands near the Turkish coast are receiving a rising number of boats with displaced people.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu tweeted that the number of migrants who left Turkey to cross into Greece reached 135,844 as of 9 pm local time (0600GMT) on March 4.

While Bulgaria could have been another destination option, the fence across the Bulgarian-Turkish land border seems to be discouraging refugees, while Bulgaria shares no maritime border with Turkey as is the case with Greece.

Greece – already overburdened since 2015 – closed for the first time its borders, strengthened army surveillance and temporarily suspended acceptance of asylum applications.

The EU leadership visited the Evros River border and is prepared to mobilize necessary operational support for Greek authorities and provide financial support. It is also negotiating with Ankara how the EU-Turkey agreement of April 2016 on the management of the refugee crisis can be applied once again.

As it is the case with Greece, Turkey has also undertaken a heavy burden by hosting numerous refugees for years. However, it has not seen its demands – in exchange for its cooperation – following the 2016 deal satisfied.

In particular, the Turkish government complains about the lack of progress on talks with the EU on issues such as the visa liberalization agreement and the customs union upgrade. So, it decided to unilaterally withdraw from the 2016 accord in order to highlight its critical international role on the matter and diplomatically press its interlocutors.

Turkey's goal is obvious: to send a clear message to the EU, even if the means it employs to achieve this goal have been internationally criticized. It is uncertain if these tactics will produce results as far as relations between the EU and Turkey are concerned.

Ankara will perhaps receive a higher amount of European funds; however, the grim reality is that most EU member-states do not care about the drama of the refugees. They prefer to work on easy solutions such as financial support of countries such as Greece, Italy and Turkey,and leave them alone to face the difficult task of integrating the refugees.

A better distribution of displaced people would be the key,but there is lack of political will. That is why the borders of many EU member states have been closed since 2015. The Schengen area still exists, yet, travelers across member-states are often asked to present their passports.

Against this backdrop, Turkey rather creates a problem for Greece than the EU at large. Greece is naturally under pressure. Its strict measures are fair and understandable, but they only delay the arrival of refugees. The maritime border, for example, cannot be very well protected.

So, even if the Evros border is sealed, the refugees will find other routes, leaving unanswered the critical question ofhow their future will be. What is equally worrying is that messages sent by politicians on both sides tend to exacerbate hostility. Greece and Turkey should collaborate at the EU level, because their demands on the refugee crisis are fair. They both need the political backing of Europe.

Last but not least, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is a good diplomatic gambler. He assesses that the West is concerned about the deepening of relations between his country and Russia. He therefore tests the U.S. reaction – following the ongoing confrontation of the Turkish military with the Syrian one in Idlib and beyond – by asking for NATO verbal and practical support.

He is doing so not only to test the West, but also to empower his position in negotiations with Moscow. Several Western commentators anticipate a crisis in Turkish-Russian relations because of Idlib and Ankara's recent opening up to NATO. Turkey and Russia, however, value the importance of their cooperation and are expected to reach solutions.  

George N. Tzogopoulos is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

If you would like to contribute, please contact us at

Follow on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.
ChinaNews App Download
Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:   
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from