On Thursday night, an announcement was made that a deal had been struck between the EU and Turkey regarding the containment of refugee flows entering Europe via Turkey. At the price of 3 billion euros, promises to ease visa-free traveling for Turkish citizens to Schengen countries and the re-opening of the EU-admission talks that had stalled after questions were raised about Turkey’s authoritarian turn over the past few years, Turkey promised to help Europe deal with its “refugee crisis” (not the refugees’ crisis, but the crisis of Europe’s inability to welcome the refugees in a humane and sensible way).
In exchange, Turkey conceded increased border controls, an improvement in refugees’ livelihoods, and the re-admission of refugees who had already entered the EU by way of Turkey, who were denied asylum and would now have to be deported somewhere. As a final touch, and a sign of the EU’s good will, Turkey would also be added to the list of ‘safe countries’ people could be deported to, no questions asked — not even as to the thousands of political prisoners currently behind Turkish bars; nor to the millions living in Kurdish towns, subjected to military sieges and nighttime raids, seeing the lifeless bodies of their comrades dragged through the streets behind police vehicles; or to the countless murdered children — collateral damage, of course — whose young lives were cut short by “ricocheted” bullets, “misguided” tear gas canisters or “unfortunate accidents”.
In spite of the fact that Turkey already seems to have backtracked on the deal since Thursday, with President Erdogan — hinting at a mild case of having lost all touch with reality — defiantly stating that nothing short of full EU membership will be sufficient to move Turkey to stick to its side of the bargain, the politics at play here expose the rotten inner workings of the EU.
The deal between the EU and Turkey does not stem from a desire to help out a fellow human being in need (or a couple of million of them, for that matter), nor is it a sign that European governments have finally decided to make work of improving ever so slightly the miserable lives of those many, many people whose family members disappeared, whose houses were bombed, whose cars went up in flames, whose animals were slaughtered, whose children starved, whose money vanished and whose lives turned to nothing but a series of empty, meaningless moments tied together with ragged strings of pain, loss and suffering.
No. This deal is the product of pure fear. Fear for what is different. Fear of having to share what is yours. Fear for the stranger who speaks an unintelligible language, wears a different type of clothes, and who — God forbid — occasionally eats with his hands. But most of all, it is the fear to lose power.
It is this deep-seated, inner fear that has finally set things in motion. The politicians’ fear to lose the vote of those who have bought into the populist rhetoric of the right-wing xenophobes, instilled with hate, anger and xenophobia. Power corrupts. It numbs, it demands, it craves. Every refugee entering this country is one vote less for those in power. ‘We’re sorry. We’re left with no choice. This is for the best of us all. Really.’
Millions of destroyed lives are being used as leverage in a political ploy that only serves to keep the status quo intact. An aspiring dictator is being groomed as savior while European leaders keep their eyes shut to the daily human rights violations, their ears closed to the cries for justice from a people in distress, and their lips sealed to prevent anyone from speaking up, in case the wrong word or a misplaced sentence rouses the Sultan’s anger.
The way Europe is currently dealing with its refugee crisis is by doing everything in its power not to let it reach its doorstep. The gates have been closed, new fences have been built. Batons, tear gas and water cannons are deployed in order to keep the “barbarian hordes” at bay.
For the lucky few who did manage to breach the seemingly impregnable walls of the Fortress, the struggle is far from over. The hospitality of those few communities opening their doors and welcoming those in need is overshadowed by racist slurs sprayed on the walls of derelict school buildings doubling as migration centers; the discriminatory rhetoric characterizing each public discussion about the refugees’ fate; and the xenophobic prejudices of their new neighbors who apparently know everything about the refugees’ lives, customs, ideas, religion and beliefs without ever having spoken to any of them.
The deal between the EU and Turkey is a scandalous example of how the refugee crisis is being used for local political gain by both sides. With important elections coming up in two weeks and facing a major setback in its support, the Turkish AKP-led government is eager for some cheap victories to present to its voters. At the same time, European leaders have collectively agreed to turn a blind eye to everything that is wrong with Turkey, only to let it do the dirty work for them.
The refugees’ crisis is a humanitarian crisis, not a political one. As such, the solution lies with ordinary people and not with the political games of their leaders. Speaking up against hate and fear is as important as acts of hospitality and solidarity. But the solution lies not in isolated acts of kindness. Leaving all systemic critiques of the political system aside, we need to stand up to this discourse of hate, rise up to the politics of fear. We need to show that power resides with those who have built it through struggle, and that protection will be granted to those who need it.
Let Europe become a safe haven for those fleeing war, poverty and persecution, and the fertile soil in which the seeds of a common future can be sown. It’s time to say it loud, and to say it clear: “Refugees are welcome here!”
Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based political analyst, writer, editor for ROAR Magazine and columnist for TeleSUR English.
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