Turkish President Erdogan’s decision to push thousands of refugees and migrants to the country’s mainland border with Greece on the Evros river and the islands, has led to the greatest crisis over refugee flows since 2015 and to the worst crisis in the recent period between Greece and Turkey.
Statement by Xekinima (ISA in Greece)
Starting on February 27, the Turkish authorities have been forcing thousands of refugees and migrants to travel to the northern border with Greece, giving the impression or even assuring them that they will be able to cross the border and travel from there to other European countries. Many of them would like to get to northern Europe. Thousands more are being coerced to cross to those Greek islands that are very close to the Turkish coast such as Lesbos, Chios, Kos etc. Many reporters confirm that the Turkish state is actually transporting the refugees and migrants to the Greek border or is making deals with smugglers to transport them for free.
Erdogan provoked this new crisis on the border with Greece after the Turkish army suffered serious setbacks in Idlib in Syria. His aim is to wrest support, or at least the tolerance of the EU and the US for his war efforts in Syria. At the same time he is putting pressure on the Greek government, with which relations are already under stress due to competition for the mining of hydrocarbons in the Southeast Mediterranean Sea, and due to the Turkish intervention in Libya — Greece and Turkey support opposite warring factions in the Libyan civil war.
The response of the Greek government to the thousands of desperate refugees, mainly families with babies and children, differs little from those of the far right politicians such as Salvini, Orban et al. The refuges are depicted as “invaders” and have been attacked with tear gas, water cannons and even live ammunition. In one of the most viewed videos, a coast guard is clearly seen attacking a boat full of women and children and beating them with a stick, shooting into the water close to the boat and making dangerous maneuvers that could overturn it. On the mainland border, at least one immigrant was killed.
The Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn has congratulated the government for using policies from their own program and the right-wing populist president of the US, Donald Trump declared his support to the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
The Greek government has violated all international laws and conventions on refugees. For a start, refugees are denied entry to the country and all asylum applications have been suspended for a month. The Greek authorities arrest and press charges of “illegal entry to the country” against any refugee that makes it through the border, although they have deprived them of all legal means to enter the country. The arrested refugees are threatened with fast track trials that can condemn them to 4 years of imprisonment and fines of 10.000 euros.
The Greek Government’s inhumane and barbaric “policy” against the refugees is in line with the policy of the EU and its agreement with Turkey in 2016. This agreement literally trapped the refugees in Turkey, a country which is characterized as “unsafe for refugees” by most International organizations, in violation of international laws and conventions on refugee rights. Now the EU has promised Mitsotakis 700 million euros, to be “invested in border security”.
Paramilitary groups have also taken action against refugees. Armed men with their faces covered arrest refugees and migrants, put them into trucks without license plates, and transport them back to the border, forcing them to return back to Turkey. The fact that this takes place, despite being filmed by reporters, shows that they have the backing of the Greek government.
The far right is emboldened
The EU and the Greek government’s policies are emboldening the far-right, increasing their scope for action.
On March 1, a group of far-right residents of Lesbos tried to stop refugees disembarking to the island from a small rubber boat, verbally attacking them, in particular the women refugees, with very abusive language with comments such as: “She is pregnant. So what? Why did she get on the boat then?”
The same night a temporary refugee shelter on the island “Skala 2” was set on fire after it was announced that some of the newly arrived refugee women and children would be sheltered there. On the next day, on the island of Chios, a warehouse storing clothes for refugees was also burned down.
In Lesbos, far-right residents formed groups and started to patrol the streets with their faces covered to “check” the papers of all passers-by. NGO workers who work for refugees have received death threats, forcing some to leave the Islands. A number of reporters have been viciously attacked.
In the past couple of days, the local far-right groups have been joined by German neo-Nazis, who have come in Greece to “keep refugees out of Europe”. In Lesbos, they verbally attacked antifascist residents saying “you will get what you got in Kalavryta”! Kalavryta is a Greek village where the biggest massacre of the unarmed population by the Nazis took place during the Nazi occupation of Greece in the 1940s!
Yet at the same time, there are people who resist the hatred cultivated towards refugees and the rise of nationalism. In Lesbos, on the same day that the far-right group was filmed preventing women and children from disembarking from the rubber boat, hundreds of residents in other parts of the island helped refugees as they landed and gave them clothes and food.
On the mainland border of Evros, groups of residents also distributed food to the refugees. Some protests in support of the refugees and against the inhumane policies of the Greek government and the EU have taken place, with the biggest one March 5 in Athens, where around 6–7.000 attended. More protests and demonstrations are scheduled by the left in Greece, which has started to coordinate on this issue.
Of course, the mainstream media only give publicity to the actions of the far-right. They consistently label all the people at the borders “illegal immigrants”, cultivating and promoting by all means possible the idea that what is taking place is an “invasion”, orchestrated by the Turkish government. One TV channel, for example, showed a video from 2015 when the refugees, who were in Idomeni in Greece, were trying to cross the border to Northern Macedonia, where they were attacked by the N. Macedonian authorities. This video was presented as if these events were taking place in 2020 on the Greek-Turkish border of Evros. While showing the video the reporter was commenting: “This is unbelievable. They [the refugees] are taking down the border fence. Do you see what is happening? The police can’t do anything…”
Coordinated action of the workers and poor is the only way forward
People don’t put their lives in danger, nor do they leave everything they have behind unless they are forced to do so. Refugees exist because wars and physical and economic devastation take place. Many of the refugees that are trying to cross the Greek border come from Syria, where war has been raging for the past 10 years. Others come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Congo and similar countries with dictatorial or semi-dictatorial regimes, civil wars etc. So, as long as wars and military interventions take place, these and the economic devastation that follows will inevitably create refugees.
The large, but also the smaller, imperialist powers, the US, the EU, Russia, Turkey wage war to support dictators, exploit the riches and the markets of smaller countries and sell weapons, but they don’t want to accept in their countries the refugees and migrants that are being created by their actions and policies. So, they impose more inhumane policies. They close the borders, they abuse and repress refugees.
This is a new phase in the tragedy of refugee flows, and is also a time of heightening tensions in Greek-Turkish relations. The refugees and migrants, who were forced to flee their homes in order to save their lives, cannot be blamed for this crisis. Nor can the people of Greece and Turkey. It is Erdogan, Mitsotakis, the EU establishment, the US and Russian ruling classes, who are in fierce competition for control of the area, who are responsible for this crisis and they of course can never provide any real solution to the problem.
The only way forward is through the cooperation and coordinated action of the working class and the poor. The Turkish working class, who suffer under the semi-dictatorial regime of Erdogan, the Greek working class suffering under the neo-liberal Mitsotakis and the memoranda, and which demonstrated immense solidarity to the refugees in 2015–2016 (an element that is still present in wide layers of society), the refugees and migrants, together with the workers, the unions and the social movements in Europe should join forces, and fight in solidarity for a number of central demands:
- Stop all murderous attacks against the refugees approaching the Greek borders on the mainland and at sea. Annul the decisions of the Greek government to suspend refugee registration and all asylum applications in Greece, and to introduce fast track trials and immediate deportations.
- Provide without delay, food, clothes, shelters and doctors/medical services to all the refugees trapped on the Greek-Turkish border.
- Establish more asylum offices so that all asylum applications can be rapidly examined, allowing for refugee or other legal statuses to be granted, and enabling refugees uninhibited travel to the country of their choice.
- Disband the racist and inhumane agreement between Turkey and the EU, as well as the Dublin III Accord, so that refugees can apply for asylum in all EU member states. Apply a proportional distribution of refugees across the EU.
- The EU is rich enough to more than finance such a policy, and it can raise more money by taxing the rich and multinationals, what does not exist is the political will by the EU bosses.
Such a plan would immediately relieve the Greek Islands, which are functioning as open air prisons for tens of thousands of refugees and would enable hosting refugees in decent conditions — rather than in detention centres as is the case today. There must also be a plan for the integration of those refugees, who choose to stay in Greece in the educational and health system and provide them with training needed for productive employment.
EU funds for this purpose should no longer be paid to the different NGOS, instead directed to public institutions created for the accommodation, relief and integration of the refugees, which should operate under the control and management of the working class and society in general as well as refugees.
Withdraw all foreign armies from Syria and all the countries of the M. East and N. Africa. Stop all military interventions and wars that force people to flee their homes. This struggle should be part of the struggle against the barbaric capitalist system that gives birth to all these phenomena in Europe, the Middle East and the whole world.
What is happening in the Turkish—Syrian border?
The war in Syria started in 2011. Up until now it has led to 4 million refugees, 10 million people internally displaced and more than 100.000 dead, in a country with a population of 20 million, and complete devastation of the economy.
In Syria, a “miniature” world war has been taking place with the armies of the US, Russia, Turkey, Iran and others fighting in support of the Assad regime or his opponents.
In March 2016, the EU-Turkey agreement was signed. This meant that borders of the EU countries were closed to refugees and that Turkey would get 6 billion euros from the EU in order to keep the refugee flows in the country and away from the EU borders.
There are 3,7 million refugees in Turkey, this is the highest number in any country. Turkey claims that it has spent 40 billion euros on the refugees and that the EU has only given 3 billion euros, which is only half of the money it promised in the 2016 agreement.
In the Fall of 2019, Erdogan and Putin signed an agreement on northern Syria. Erdogan aimed to create a “buffer zone” between the Kurdish areas of Syria and Turkey. This agreement however did not clarify the situation in areas like Idlib where the Turkish army has a big presence.
So, after the failed operations of the Turkish army in Idlib to stop the forces of Assad and Russia, with dozens of dead Turkish soldiers the Erdogan regime is trying to use the refugees in order exert pressure on the EU and win its support for its policies in northern Syria.
Apart from the diplomatic and military support for its military operations in northern Syria, Turkey wants the financial support of the EU for the “reconstruction” of those parts of Syria that are under its control. At the same time the refugee flows from Syria to Turkey continue and it is estimated that they could even reach 1–2 million people.
Erdogan is maneuvering between the main imperialist powers trying to play an “independent” role, i.e. serve his regime’s interests, in the region. This means that on some occasions, he comes into collision with the US and strengthens his relations with Putin’s Russia.
In this context, Erdogan is aiming at building pipe lines to transfer Russian natural gas to Europe and has agreed and paid for the purchase and installment of the Russian S-400 missile system, despite strong protests on the part of NATO.
On the other hand, the Turkish regime and Putin support conflicting sides both in Libya and in Syria. But in Syria the war, in the end, has been largely won by Assad and Putin, so Erdogan finds himself in a difficult situation and is trying to impose “accomplished facts” on the Syrian-Turkish border.
This is the reason he is now trying to pressurize the EU and the US to support him against Putin, trying to utilize the conflicting interests on the international plane to serve his regime’s own interests.