The already-grim situation for the more than 3 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey just took a turn for the worse when the attempted coup in July last year took place. Although, the attempted coup must have been a horrible nightmare for the Syrian refugees in the country, Turkey has been continuously represented a safe haven with little fear of deportation—though the open door policy for new refugees from Syria has ended for now.
However, what happened in July last year in Turkey has blurred Turkey’s image of being a refugee hosting country that is swiftly becoming a country sending a large number of asylum seekers to abroad.
Following the failed coup attempt on 15 July 2016, Turkish government held US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen and his followers responsible for orchestrating the coup plot. Turkey has been dribbling out the figures of the tens of thousands of soldiers, cops, judges, prosecutors, academics. Although one fifth of all the judges and prosecutors in the country have been arrested and rule of law has been severely undermined, anxiety about refugees streaming to its shores has led the EU leaders to turn an apparent blind eye to severe rights abuses in Turkey.
Many Turkey observers are in opinion that the EU’s unwillingness to react to the situation in Turkey is closely related to Turkey’s success in absorbing the Syrian refugees. EU countries are clearly frightened by Turkish President Erdogan’s threats of letting the Syrian refugees into Europe. It is worth mentioning that a refugee deal is still in tact between the EU and Turkey despite the fact that Turkey is heading toward a constitutional referendum for which the Venice Commission underlines its concerns and stated that proposed constitutional amendments in Turkey would be a “dangerous step backwards” for democracy.
Having said that the recent social and political in developments Turkey, however, may have greater implications for the West than the Syrian refugee crisis. As a result of the crackdown on its own security forces, Turkey is now as fragile in terms security as it has never been before. The attacks perpetrated by the ISIS and PKK resulted in the death and injury of hundreds of people since the coup attempt. Since a great majority of the counter-terrorism professionals and the army is jailed over charges of affiliation with the Gülen movement, the government has been extremely ineffective in responding to the terrorist threats. On the other hand, imprisonment of pro-Kurdish MPs by the government is another crucial element and will likely trigger more PKK attacks in the near future. The ISIS leader Al-Baghdadi has also called members of his network to carry out further attacks in Turkey.
This is to underline that in the face of the deteriorating environment in the country, majority of the Turkish citizens are feeling highly concerned about their security. People have been reluctant to leave their houses to avoid possible attacks for the last couple of months and those who are wealthy and educated enough have already started considering migrating to safer countries. If the Turkish government cannot take the necessary measures to thwart future attacks and if the security situation in the country keeps getting worse, EU member states should expect an influx of Turkish refugees in the upcoming years.
Taking into account the population of the country which is approximately 80 million, the wave of refugees from Turkey might have greater consequences for the EU than the Syrian conflict.
Members of the Gülen movement in Turkey may be another aspect of a would-be Turkish refugee crisis. Number of people who have been directly or indirectly affected by the government’s “cleansing policy” is believed to exceed millions. These people can neither find employment in government or private sector, nor can they benefit from social security since they have been blacklisted by the government. They are also being intimated by the pro-government mobs that are agitated by the government against the group. Although the government cancelled their passports under the state of emergency, they are left without any chance other than seeking asylum in Western countries once they can obtain passports.
It is now crystal that as an EU candidate country Turkey has radically undermined core European values especially after the coup attempt and it has already started suffering from the consequences. Accordingly, many pundits both in Turkey and abroad have been calling the EU to focus more on the possible implications of the situation in Turkey for itself right away and force the Turkish President for a swift normalization in the country. This has not been the case for a long time. However, the recent row between Turkey and Netherlands seems to trigger a stronger European position against Erdogan than ever and the EU may revise its ‘wait and see policy’ vis-a-vis Turkey that it has been applying over the last couple of years.
*Ebubekir ISIK is a PhD Researcher at the Free University of Brussels (VUB), Belgium.