President Recep Tayip Erdogan’s invasion of northern Syria is no solution to the refugee crisis afflicting the region: in fact it will create more misery and death.
President Erdogan made the argument that Turkey cannot cope with the 3.4 million Syrian refugees on its soil and that only a significant increase in payments to Turkey under the 2016 EU-Turkey Refugee Agreement would stop more migrants from fleeing to Europe.
In an opinion article published in the Wall Street Journal, he called on the international community to join his offensive into Syria or accept more refugees and singled out western powers for failing to contain the Syrian crisis, which now has drawn in regional powers Iran and Russia.
Mr Erdogan’s position is not just disingenuous. It is dishonest.
By invading Syria, Mr Erdogan will not solve the refugee crisis, but he will exacerbate it. He is in clear breach of international law and should be stopped. While the United States has rightfully come under criticism for yanking its forces out of Syria, Europe has its share of the blame for the deepening crisis.
The Turkish invasion is just the latest example of the failure of Europe to confront the catastrophic situation in Syria today that once again threatens the security of our continent.
Under the EU-Turkey Refugee Agreement, Turkey committed to preventing migrants from reaching Europe and in return was pledged €6 billion to house refugees in camps, while the EU also accepted a certain contingent whose asylum claims had been recognized. So far €5.8 billion has been allocated and €2.6 billion disbursed.
President Erdogan might well complain that his country has so far received only a fraction of the total committed, at a time when the economy is struggling, but he knows only too well that EU funds are released only for concrete projects and therefore Turkey should fulfil its side of the bargain.
Beyond offering financial support, Europe has a duty to intervene more strongly on its eastern border. Why is the EU doing nothing? Because we are powerless. Because we in Europe are not in a position to meet our international responsibilities, if necessary through the use of military force.
In 2015, we were unable to join forces with domestic rebels to overthrow the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, when his people rose up against him.
Today, Assad’s power in Syria seems assured, Iranian influence across the region has increased significantly and Turkey is on the rise. All this means less stability and security for Europe. Europe needs secure external borders. Europe cannot and will not accept refugees without limit. For years now, Europe has been working on the symptoms of the refugee crisis without actually tackling the problem. Europe and above all Germany is the destination of many migrants from the Near and Middle East as well as from Africa. But Europe cannot become the home of all. Syria needs to be stabilized, not invaded by another malicious neighbour.
Europe would be well advised to stop Turkey’s invasion of Syria together with an international alliance and to establish a demilitarized zone in northern Syria to ease the pressure on the Turkish-Syrian border. But most importantly, Europe must stop military action against the Kurds in northern Syria. Erdogan is cynically exploiting the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria to establish a dumping ground for refugees from other parts of Syria and push out the Kurds who call the region home. Europe has a responsibility to stop this tragedy as soon as possible.
Nikolas Löbel, MP is a Member of the Foreign Relations Committee in the German Parliament from the ruling coalition CDU/CSU. He is the special rapporteur for Gulf countries within the coalition’s parliamentary group.