The AKP’s electoral victory in Turkey was received with a sigh of relief by European governments. The victory restored the 13-year long tradition of single-party rule, after a brief hiatus following the June elections. According to the European Commission, the general elections on Nov. 1 “reaffirmed the strong commitment of the Turkish people to the democratic process.” This naïve summary of an electoral process drenched in blood, marred by violence and characterized by the systematic silencing of media outlets and individuals that publicly voiced their opposition to the government, can only be explained as a case of willful ignorance.
Fully aware of the daily human rights violations by Turkish authorities, the poor state of press freedom and the collective punishment of Turkey’s Kurdish population in the context of the country’s domestic “War on Terror,” the EU chooses nonetheless to give the AKP a helping hand in the run-up to the elections. Party-founder and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was welcomed in Brussels with open arms, while the German chancellor Angela Merkel paid a highly controversial visit to Turkey to discuss the refugee crisis. The release of the European Commission’s yearly progress report on Turkey was withheld until after the elections so as not to undermine the AKP’s “success story” with its critical content.
The EU’s support for the AKP – a party that was universally welcomed as a game-changer when it came to power in 2002, but which has turned increasingly authoritarian over the past few years – stems not solely from a sense of solidarity with the neoliberal-inspired Islamist party. Rather, now that the supposedly impregnable walls of Fortress Europe appear to be crumbling under the pressure of hundreds of thousands of refugees, the EU is desperate for a new candidate to protect its porous borders. And Turkey, apparently, is just the one.
Since the start of 2015, approximately 800,000 refugees have entered Europe in one way or another, the majority of them arriving by boat from Turkey or the north African coast. The influx of such a great number of people from the war-torn countries of the greater Middle Eastern region have brought a global crisis to the doorstep of many Europeans. Unable to cope in a sensible and humane way with the arrival of so many people, the situation quickly turned into what is now commonly referred to as the “refugee crisis.”
It is important to note here that the question at the heart of this crisis is not “How best to provide the refugees with food, shelter and security in the most effective way?” but rather “How to make sure the refugees pose as little a threat as possible to the social and political status quo?” The answer to his second question is clear: by making sure the influx is kept at an absolute minimum. It was this goal Merkel had in mind when she visited Turkey a mere two weeks prior to the November elections.
The German chancellor had come under severe political pressure to deal with the crisis, and the solution she came up with was not to improve the conditions at home, nor in the refugees’ countries of origin. Instead, she decided to make sure the millions of people currently in Turkey but determined to make their way to Europe, would be forced to stay right where they are. Stuck in limbo.
In return for Turkish promises to step up border patrols and to improve the refugees’ living conditions and employment and educational opportunities – not the easiest task in a country where unemployment stands at 10 percent, and where 400,000 Syrian children are currently not in school – the EU has offered to provide as much as $3 billion to aid this process.
The European response to the biggest humanitarian crisis the continent has faced since the Second World War is disgraceful. Barbed-wire fences once again line Europe borders, refugees have been attacked by security forces and citizens alike, they are held under abysmal conditions in internment camps and have had identification numbers written on their arms, eerily reminiscent of the Nazi practices in the concentration camps.
Mainly stemming from countries that are designated as hot-beds of terrorism, the refugees are an easy target of right-wing, populist politicians who eagerly fuel the fires of xenophobia and racism in which they thrive so well.
OPINION: Don’t Make Refugees Pay for Terror They Flee
In the popular perception refugees have turned from victims into perpetrators, the devastation they are fleeing perceived as a contagious disease that will bring destruction and violence to wherever they are allowed to settle down. Immediately after the attacks in Paris, international media reported how a Syrian passport was found at the scene of one of the attacks, and how at least one of the perpetrators had entered Europe pretending to be a refugee. Such reports, true or not, only serve to confirm the commonly held belief that every refugee is a potential terrorist, and that the only way to shield ourselves from any future attacks is to close the borders, shut the gates and throw away the keys.
At the G20 summit in Antalya, a popular tourist destination on Turkey’s southern coast, just 900 kilometers from the Syrian border, the Paris attacks and subsequent concerns over border security were high on the agenda. While EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker urged the global leaders not to “mix the different categories of of people coming to Europe. The one responsible for the attacks in Paris … he is a criminal and not a refugee and not an asylum seeker,” this peculiar little detail – that refugees are, in fact, not terrorists – seems to have been lost on many.
In the wake of the attacks, half of the U.S. governors declared they would refuse to resettle Syrian refugees, some referring to the discovery of the Syrian passport as a justification for their blatantly racist remarks.
The attacks in Paris will have a big impact on how the Western world will deal with the refugee crisis. Processes regarding the containment of the refugees outside the EU’s borders that were set in motion weeks ago, will now be pursued with rekindled effort. And Turkey will come to play a central role in this respect. Hesitations and critiques about the poor state of Turkey’s democracy will be put on ice for the time being. In the face of millions of refugees knocking on the gates of Europe, Turkey is perceived as the lesser evil, regardless of the role it played the rise of the Islamic State group by allowing thousands upon thousands of potential jihadists to cross the border into Syria and the continued violent repression of its Kurdish population.
In their rush to come up with a decisive response to the terror attacks and their urgent need to save their political skin, Western leaders have once again chosen the wrong course of action. There is talk of more war to bring about peace; more restrictions to promote freedom; more repression to guarantee safety.
Seeking rapprochement with countries like Turkey is not part of a solution to the current crisis, but rather an attempt at tactical relocation. To keep the refugees there where they pose as little a threat as possible to the European status quo, so that the local politicians stand a chance at surviving the next round of elections.
In the long term, however, befriending, empowering and legitimizing the Turkish government with its repressive and antagonizing policies will only serve to prolong the different crises that have already destroyed numerous lives, uprooted entire populations and have shaking the world to its core.
Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based political analyst and writer with an MSc in Political Economy. He is an editor for ROAR Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter via @Le_Frique.
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