Ever since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threw open his borders last week allowing refugees from Syria and elsewhere to stream toward Europe, EU leaders have been nervously watching Greece try and stem the tide.
More than 20,000 refugees are currently clamoring to get into Greece with more coming, hoping they can pass through on their way to Germany, France, Great Britain, and other rich nations on the continent. Considering the political and social upheaval that occurred in 2015 when a couple of million refugees were initially welcomed by the EU, this time around will be different.
Greece, which is in a financial and political crisis of its own, can’t handle the influx. It sent extra police to secure the border and made thousands of arrests. Turkey, upping the pressure, sent troops to its border to keep the refugees from coming back.
Hoping to avoid a repeat of 2015, EU nations are throwing money at Greece — almost a billion dollars — to keep the Greeks happy and willing to act as a “shield” against the invasion.
“This border is not only a Greek border, it is also a European border,” E.U. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “I thank Greece for being our European shield in these times.”
She announced nearly $800 million in funding for Greece, for establishing and keeping up “infrastructure” at the border. The dramatic move comes amid a sharply escalating crisis after Turkey opened the country’s border to Greece as part of an apparent push to make Europe offer more support in dealing with the fallout of the Syrian war.
The Greeks are reluctant saviors, to be sure. But what about Europe? They paid Turkey billions of dollars in 2016 to have them close their borders and prevent any more refugees from coming. Now they are paying Greece to do the same.
Pretty soon, they’re going to run out of other people’s money to throw at the problem.
Reuters cited estimates that say Turkey has 3.6 million Syrian refugees within its borders, since signing a 2016 deal with the E.U. to act as a gate to Europe in return for billions of euros of aid from the bloc. The March 2016 deal said that Turkey agreed to stop migrants and refugees crossing into Europe in return [for] $6.6 billion and enhanced EU-Turkey ties, including visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.
There are signs that the situation is steadily worsening at the border between Greece and Turkey. On Friday, migrants clashed with authorities, with Greek riot-control police firing tear gas and water cannons to keep them back.
With Erdogan opening the gates to Europe, the consequences could be enormous for the continent and it is striking panic into the hearts of European leaders.
This is a far cry from the heady days when German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended her open-door policy which resulted in more than a million refugees settling in Germany. Now, the prospect of a few tens of thousands of refugees strikes “panic” in their hearts.
Erdoğan couldn’t be more pleased with the result. The chaos and worry is exactly the reaction for which he was hoping. He now has the EU leaders over a barrel and will look to not only extort more money from them but also gain diplomatic support in his efforts to negotiate with Russia, Syria, and Iran on a post-civil war landscape.
What of the refugees? They will suffer the fate of all pawns. They will be sacrificed to realize the larger ambitions of more powerful people.