Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told the German paper Bild on July 25 that those fleeing Afghanistan should go to “neighboring” countries such as Turkey, rather than European Union countries, to seek asylum. It’s a shameful statement because of trying to humiliate refugees and Turkey that he puts into a position of a refugee gatekeeper. He wants to gain election points by Turkey-bashing, using the excuse of Afghan refugees. By making such remarks Kurz may earn the appreciation of the far-right or racist parties in some other European Union Countries, perhaps hoping that he could become the natural leader of the far-right in Europe. way, it’s shameful, because of trying to humiliate refugees and Turkey.
When I read it, I recalled why Nazism had its roots in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire and why Adolf Hitler came out of Austria. I hope the European religious racism which flared up in Germany and Italy in the 1920s, is not making a disastrous return a century later, this time from within the EU, which is considered as the most successful peace and development project ever. Then the hate object of European racists was Jews. Now what?
The Turkish Foreign Ministry reacted harshly to Kurz on July 26. Spokesperson Tanju Bilgic said:
• “Turkey will not assume a mass migration crisis that arises from the region and will not bear a new migration wave. (…) Turkey will not be the border guard or refugee camp of the European Union.”
Great. But, why is Turkey trying to stop refugees who want to go to EU countries anyway? Turkey’s responsibility is limited to providing humanitarian aid to the refugees who fled to it to save their lives or to get rid of oppression. Why does the government stop those who want to go to the EU countries like Austria, Germany, Sweden, and Greece? I believe they should be free to go. And those countries should abandon this hypocrisy and fulfill the obligations given to them by the United Nations agreement. Is it difficult for the leadership of that country to enter the elections with a refugee problem? That should be their problem.
Perception of Turkey as a refugee gatekeeper
Another question: where do right-wing and racist politicians get the courage to put Turkey as Europe’s refugee gatekeeper?
It is not only their own hypocritical, discriminatory, and increasingly racist ideology that gave them this courage, but also the wrong refugee policy that Turkey has followed for the last ten years. The Turkish Foreign Ministry statement is right when it says “Turkey will not be the EU’s border guard or refugee camp”, but it’s also an overdue statement. That should have been said ten years ago when the Syrian civil war started before Turkey was dragged into that crisis. For example, it should have been said before President Tayyip Erdoğan agreed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and approved the agreement to stop the refugee influx into the EU in 2016 as a part of a political deal to improve Turkey’s relations with the EU.
Didn’t Erdoğan take on the role of refugee gatekeeper when he said, “Fulfill your promises or we’ll wave after the refugees into the EU”?
Turkey is a country that has put a geographical limitation to the UN agreements long ago that it will not be obliged to grant permanent refugee status to asylum seekers coming from places other than Europe. For this reason, asylum seekers from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, let’s continue, Congo, Somalia, and Vietnam in Turkey are not officially considered “refugees”, but “guests” and are given “temporary protection”.
Of these “guests”, the number of Syrians alone is around 4 million, according to official data, about 5 percent of Turkey’s population. Refugee status is such that it will affect the election results in the country if they are given citizenship by the government.
Hypocrisy is everywhere but racism is different
The immigration of Afghans has accelerated since the United States decided to withdraw from Afghanistan and demand that Turkey remains there. (By the way, would an adviser tell the Austrian Chancellor that Turkey and Afghanistan are not neighbors? The distance between Kabul and Ankara is 3248 km by air, 4288 km by land. Ankara-Vienna is 1602 km by air, 2012 by land. That is about half of the former.) This situation is also a matter of concern to the Turkish public. Erdogan also has an election in front of him that is vital to winning.
Rest assured, Erdoğan would score points in domestic politics -which he badly needs- if he now unleashes the refugee influx into Europe, and he needs it. Of course, provided that it does not make the country a center of attraction by better controlling its eastern and southern borders. Another thing Erdogan needs is support from the small and medium-sized industrialists and agriculture and livestock sectors, who exploit the cheap labor of refugees who do not have any legal rights or security at the expense of increasing unemployment in Turkey. It is also hoped that this support will transform Turkey into a low-cost and geographically close production base to replace China in Europe in the post-covid pandemic conditions.
But none of these criticisms can justify Austrian Chancellor Kurz’s embarrassing, racist statements. Especially after that statement, Turkey should stop acting like Europe’s refugee gatekeeper.
Oh, and there is the fact that Brussels warned EU members Poland and Hungary about discrimination, which is tragicomic. So, what will the EU Commission do if they continue? Will it kick Poland and Hungary out of the EU, while Russia is looming over there? Does Austria discriminate less? The EU is busy dissolving its political power piece by piece after the UK’s departure.
Europe is playing with fire again a century after the birth of Nazism.