Is the European Union Ready for an Influx of Migrants?

Despite the intensified fight against the spread of coronavirus in Europe, the migration flows have not weakened. In the current situation, in fact, violations of the Schengen agreements on free movement have caused a unique situation that needs attention. Turkey’s Anadolu news agency last Wednesday reported an unprecedentedly large number of refugees accumulated along the borders with Greece. On the one hand, one can notice Turkey’s non-compliance with the deal with the EU, but on the other hand, an analysis of the context in which the situation has developed is also necessary.

A reasonable question arises: what is the reason for the sudden influx of migrants at the Greek border? As everyone remembers, the migration crisis developed progressively. The European Statistical Office recorded an increase in February-March, but already in May of last year, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Germany’s readiness to accept refugees, which, together with favourable warm weather, provoked a massive influx of migrants into the European Union and several border countries in the summer.

It is necessary to understand that in March 2020, the situation is completely different. First, Turkey seems not to have the resources to control and contain refugees, which is indirectly confirmed by the migration statistics of the country. The agreement with the European Union was fundamentally important for Erdogan from both a political and an economic point of view, but even at the time of the negotiations it was doubtful. Buffer states such as Turkey or Mexico in fact experience enormous pressure both internally and externally and cannot always be full-fledged guarantors of compliance with agreements. In my opinion, they are confronted with the forced dilemma of the “buffer state” and, due to their geopolitical and geostrategic interests, are not ready to refuse “tempting” proposals to guarantee stability and restrain migration flows. The current inflow is associated with the deterioration of the situation in Idlib and the movement of refugees towards the borders with the EU, which is partly “supported” by Turkey.

Migrants in Europe
Movements of people across the Mediterranean decreased compared with 2016. Numbers significantly declined for the Eastern Mediterranean crossing beginning in April 2016 and for the Central Mediterranean since July 2017.

The case of Greece is also of interest. According to WHO data, on March 14, 98 cases of novel coronavirus were recorded in the country, yet the borders are still open and at the moment, migration flows with other countries are not blocked, but let us not forget, that the mass migration through the border provoked by Turkey has caused a complicated situation. Historically, these migrants are mostly focused on further movement, deeper inside the European Union, but the countries are now closing their borders one by one. The presence in Greece of such a significant number of refugees, as reported by Reuters (more than 15,000), could provoke difficult-to predict consequences. The harsh reaction of Greece is quite predictable and justified. In Turkey itself, according to the same WHO report, there are only 5 coronavirus infections listed, which in the context of global migration movements, does not look convincing enough. There are two possible reasons for this low reported number of infections. Turkey could lack contact with travellers who have visited the most infected countries (China, Italy, neighbouring Iran). This is difficult to imagine, given the country’s trade ties, and in spite of Turkey closing its border with Iran in late February. Alternately, Turkey may lack the ability to detect and diagnose infections. If this is the case, then the transfer of thousands of refugees to the territory of the European Union poses a real threat and risk, which is still underestimated.

But let us move back to the consequences, particularly the political ones rather than the socio-epidemiological ones. Will Turkey’s position, which no longer includes “deterring refugees and preventing them from entering Greece”, lead to the direct deterioration of relations with Brussels? With Athens? Or with all its foreign partners? Judging from its current statements, Ankara is trying to save face and take strict measures regarding the suppression of channels of illegal migration. Those whom Ankara managed to catch were forced to stand trial, but there is no systematic action being taken. A “black” migration market through Turkey to the EU still exists and the situation has not fundamentally changed with the onset of the current crisis. Some players may hide in the shadows for some time; however, with the warm season, the migration problem will become even more acute.  At the same time, the president of Turkey in his latest statements has made it clear to his partners in Europe that, due to the aggravation of the situation in Idlib, he was no longer obliged to comply with their agreement, as the country cannot withstand the influx of refugees. Europe had previously made promises to provide assistance to Turkey to “deter” illegal flows, but it would be nearly impossible for the EU given the current situation of quarantines within the union. Like Italy, which was forced to deal with refugee boats, Greece has to confront the situation on its own.
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