Following a deal reached between the European Union and Turkey in March 2016, Turkey has been taking measures to prevent migrants – many of them fleeing the conflict in Syria – from reaching the EU, in exchange for European aid for migrants and refugees, and for relaxation of EU visa requirements for Turkish citizens. On Friday 28 February, after military losses in north-west Syria – where Turkey has been trying to create a safe area to resettle millions of Syrian refugees and to serve Turkish interests against the Kurds – those measures were suspended, resulting in large numbers of people attempting to cross into Greece and consequent clashes with Greek security forces.
On Tuesday 3 March, the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, together with European Council president Charles Michel and European Parliament speaker David Sassoli, visited the border area, accompanied by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and described Greece as Europe’s ‘shield’.
And today, 5 March, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Vladimir Putin of Russia met in Moscow with the aim of stopping clashes between Turkish and Syrian government forces in Syria’s north-western Idlib province.
“What is lost in this tragic situation” observed WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, “is that refugees and migrants are not missiles to be launched against adversaries, or to be deflected like incoming projectiles. They are people – children, women and men – many of whom have fled for their lives from the horrors of war in Syria.
“As such, many of them have a legal and moral claim to refugee status” underlined WCC director for international affairs Peter Prove. “The international community – and especially those states most directly involved in Syria, notably Turkey and Russia – have a responsibility to protect the people suffering the effects of the continuing conflict in Syria, and to bring the violence to a long overdue end. We all betray them and our own proclaimed humanitarian principles by ‘weaponizing’ the plight of those displaced by this conflict and by failing to respect and implement long established principles of international law, especially the right to asylum.”
Tveit affirmed that “Greece needs much greater support and solidarity from other EU member countries in sharing the responsibility of receiving and hosting those who need compassion, care and refuge. But while all countries have the sovereign right and responsibility to control their borders, they must not do so at the cost of undermining fundamental international humanitarian law and principles designed exactly for the purpose of alleviating the suffering of victims of such conflicts and crises. A more compassionate and principled solution must be found, acknowledging the legitimate concerns of state authorities while respecting applicable international humanitarian law and reflecting regional co-responsibility.”