According to the UN, more than 13,000 people are already trying to cross the 212 km long Greek-Turkish border. The exodus by sea is also beginning to increase with 200 people arriving in Lesbos yesterday in various boats. In the last 4 hours another 400 people arrived. On the border between Syria and Turkey, almost a million refugees are crammed together enduring the low temperatures of these days. Erdogan assured that he will keep Turkey’s doors open to all those who want to come to the EU. Open or rather ajar, because at the moment he has “only” let 76,000 people through. Why? Is there going to be a million new refugees? What comes next? What solutions are possible?
It is clearly not the humanitarian problem that concerns Erdogan. If it were, he would have opened his borders wide to refugees long ago. For the Turkish state, the Syrian refugees are only a lever that can be turned into a weapon to twist the arms of their fellow Europeans. That is why he is dosing the flow of people according to the course of the negotiations and why he opened a tap last Thursday evening despite the threat of a flood.
The crisis is so severe that from the very beginning the situation on the Greek and Bulgarian borders, despite being continuous, has been completely different. Erdogan opened consultations with Borisov from the outset and according to Bulgarian radio and the Bulgarian government not only are there no significant concentrations on the border but Borisov is preparing to take on the role of ‘mediator’ between the EU and Erdogan during this week.
In Greece, the direct rival of Turkish imperialism’s ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean, things are the opposite. And so is the Greek answer. The first official communication was that “Erdogan’s blackmail will not work” and the way to show it was to militarize the border. A reception full of charges and tear gas made it clear that the Greek government was going to treat the issue as a problem of “border security” -that is, as an invasion, not a humanitarian emergency. Seventeen of the 66 people arrested yesterday while trying to cross were sentenced in summary trials to three and a half years in prison for “illegal entry”.
The crisis’ origin
Turkish capital is seeing the collapse of the “neo-Ottoman” imperialist strategy represented by Erdoganism in Idlib and Tripoli. The idea of asserting its own imperialist map stretching from the French townships to Arabia and from Central Asia to its Sudanese base on the Red Sea, relying on North Africa and the Middle East in the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, seemed to have a chance during the “Arab Spring”. When the perspective broke down, Sochi’s summits with Iran and Russia at least represented an alliance capable of driving Americans and Saudis-Emirates out of Syria and maintaining the illusion that Turkey had room for an independent imperialist policy. The agreements with the EU after the 2015 refugee crisis and the Khashoggi affair, Erdogan’s two great diplomatic successes, allowed the fantasy to hold a little longer.
Turkey was preparing to obtain from the Syrian war a “security strip”, a buffer state, which would prevent a continuation of the territories controlled by Kurdish militias. It wanted to resettle the three and a half million refugees there -for which it already received 3 billion euros from the EU– in an open-air concentration camp, a region of sweatshops operated through semi-slave labor and controlled by the armed groups it supported in the war, without renouncing to maintain a constant threat on Damascus. The next phase in his strategy was the so-called “blue country”: to maintain the government of the Muslim Brotherhood at all costs in Libya and to enforce the maritime border treaty signed with Erdogan in order, with the treaty in hand, to dispute the gas fields to Greece and Cyprus.
But the government of Al-Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah allies were not going to let Turkey drive a wedge into Syria. And Egyptians and Emiratis – but also Algerians, French, Americans and Russians – were not about to miss the opportunity to evict the Muslim Brotherhood from Tripoli by supporting Haftar in Libya. After giving the final nudge to the Americans and French in northern Syria, Turkey found itself dependent on the Russians and Iranians to maintain its positions on the border and confronted by Russia in Libya. The siege of Idlib and Tripoli reduced to two besieged cities the confines of a strategy that just before was still aspiring to revive the old borders of the sultanate.
Today, the compression of so many contradictory and desperate imperialist interests in such limited spaces makes the UN Secretary General recognize that “the risk of escalation in Syria is growing with every passing hour“. Erdogan knows that the Turkish army cannot maintain its positions in Idlib without causing a mass slaughter of its own troops if it does not contest the airspace to Russia. That is why he has invoked Article 5 of the NATO treaty and repeatedly asked the U.S. for Patriot missiles. But both the U.S. and the Europeans are only going to support Turkey with minor weapons to annoy Russia and prolong the Turkish agony as long as they do not receive guarantees of a full-blown imperialist realignment.
Erdogan, however, is still trying to assert the possibility of an independent imperialist policy, with contradictory alliances on different fronts. His power is at stake here. That is why instead of giving in, he is raising the bar against Europe and especially against Germany, whose internal political apparatus and its hegemony over the Eastern and Visegrad countries in the EU has not yet recovered from the crisis opened up by the refugee crisis of 2015. Hence the “opening of borders” to refugees and their free passage from Europe.
What are possible ways out of a refugee crisis?
Germany and the entire EU already see a new crisis coming and have no intention of taking in refugees. The “distribution” supposedly agreed upon two summers ago would immediately open up a new internal crisis at a particularly sensitive time. So all we can hope for is what we are already seeing: reinforcement of borders in Hungary, denial of all asylum in Serbia, militarization in Greece and the reassertion of Macron and Sanchez’s “Euro-Refugee Internment Camps”, prisons that are always overcrowded, often unhealthy and more than once handed over to the mafias, who parasitize and exploit the refugees. “Solutions” that far from solving the humanitarian problem make it worse.
No, we cannot expect a solution that is not anti-human from the European governments. For them, millions of people fleeing the disasters created by imperialism are worthless… unless they can be used as a strategic weapon against their neighbors. One cannot expect anything else from those who every day deny the fulfillment of universal human needs by subordinating them again and again to higher dividends and cheaper government. The only solution can only come from a universally extended social class whose only interests are those same needs, universal too. Utopian? Not at all. What we saw this very week in Lesbos and Chios was how these universal interests can mobilize an entire society around the interests of workers and refugees. And the situation that until now was limited to the Greek migratory breakwater, can become a reality in many other areas and regions of Europe.