Turkey’s Erdogan weaponizing refugees by opening borders with EU: Analysis

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Turkish authorities are being accused of helping hundreds of migrants and refugees cross the border into Greece in a seemingly coordinated effort to pressure the EU to help Ankara in Syria, videos posted by Turkish news agencies show.

A video that has gone viral overnight by private Turkish news agency DHA showed hundreds of Syrian and Afghan refugees making their way toward the Turkish-Greek land border.

Another video by a Turkish channel showed a refugee being interviewed, saying that she had arrived at the border after being driven for free by bus, according to a New York Times report.

Former Turkish parliament member Aykan Erdemir said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to open the border to allow refugees into Europe “is once again weaponizing Syrian refugees by threatening the European Union with new refugee waves.”

“The Turkish president hopes that this tactic will offer him leverage to induce the European Union to weigh in on the side of Turkey in the Idlib crisis,” said Erdemir, who now works as a fellow at the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

Expert Dan Arbell said Erdogan’s decision is more a “flexing of the muscle,” after “suffering a major loss of personnel.”

“It’s an attempt by Erdogan to show he can flood Europe with refugees, using it as leverage with the European Union and others in an attempt to come to his support and be more forthcoming in supporting Turkey’s position in the Syrian conflict,” said Arbell, an associate fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an airstrike in northern Syria on Thursday, the largest death toll for Turkey in a single day since it first intervened in Syria in 2016.

Arbell said the decision to open the borders also attempts to deflect attention from Turkish policy in Syria, “as Erdogan is facing criticism at home for his policy there.”

The announcement of opening borders is a way of showing that Erdogan calls the shots and that he is in control, according to Arbell.

Erdogan has previously threatened to open the borders for millions of refugees to flee to Europe, unless international support to Ankara increased.

“It is disturbing that, once again, Turkish authorities are using refugees as political pawns in order to inflame regional tensions and have a pretext to use military force to distract from their abysmal domestic conditions under Erdogan,” Greek editor and publisher Eraklis A. Diamataris wrote on Twitter.

According to roving journalist Jenan Moussa, an eyewitness said at least nine of those buses departed from Istanbul.

“At one point, it got super crowded and men quarrelled to get a place on the bus,” Moussa wrote on her tweet showing a video of one of the overcrowded buses.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that “no illegal entries into Greece will be tolerated.”

“Greece does not bear any responsibility for the tragic events in Syria and will not suffer the consequences of decisions taken by others. I have informed the European Union of the situation,” Mitsotakis wrote in response to Turkey’s recent actions near the border.

Turkey confirmed earlier on Friday that it would no longer close its border gates to refugees who want to go to Europe.

“We will no longer keep the doors closed for refugees who want to go to Europe,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Nearly 300 migrants including Syrians have already arrived in Edirne province on the border with Greece in a bid to go to Europe, the private DHA news agency reported.

Read also: Turkish troops hit by shelling in Idlib should not have been there: Russia

Greece and its EU partners also fear another influx of refugees from Syria after more than one million made their way there in 2015 before an EU-Turkey accord was reached on controlling the numbers.