As Turkey braces for a fresh round of US sanctions amid a plummeting lira and what Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says is “economic warfare” with Washington over the detention of US pastor Andrew Brunson, millions of refugees – primarily from Northern Africa and neighboring Syria, would likely flood into Europe as the Turkish economy collapses according to Newsweek.
“Over 3.5 million refugees now live in Turkey after having escaped the brutal conflict that has continued for over seven years in neighboring Syria. At the same time, there are at least half a million refugees from other parts of the Middle East and Northern Africa also living in the transcontinental country.
Many of these migrants settled in the country because of a deal Ankara struck with the European Union in 2016.” –Newsweek
“There are 4 million refugees in Turkey. Even though they haven’t integrated into Turkish society, they have benefited from a welcoming government. Erdoğan says he’s spent $20 billion of unbudgeted funds on these people. It’s quite clear these are unbudgeted expenditures he’s been willing to spend. But if you add another million on top of that, who knows,” Bulent Alizira, director of the Turkey program at the Washington, D.C.–based Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Newsweek.
Erdoğan was convinced to bring the European migrant influx under control in exchange for $6.6 billion in assistance, however this may be untenable as the Turkish economy goes deeper into a death-spiral, and another million migrants may cross the border after an impending Russian-backed Syrian government offensive in the jihadist stronghold of Idlib province.
Turkey, meanwhile, has threatened to open the floodgates to Europe in the past – as foreign minister Süleyman Soylu warning that Ankara could send “15,000 refugees to you… each month and blow your mind,” while threatening Brussels into footing the bill for the multi-billion dollar deal.
Such a scenario “could have major political consequences for politicians like German Chancellor Angela Merkel,” whose internal battles within her coalition government have left it in a precarious state after significant pressure to dial back her EU open-border migration policies which began in 2015.
Merkel has urged the Erdoğan administration to maintain the independence of Ankara’s central bank – stressing the importance of an “economically stable neighborhood,” while speaking from Bosnia this week. “No one…has an interest in an economic destabilization of Turkey, but of course everything must be done so that, for example, an independent central bank can work and so on,” she added.
That said, experts cited by Newsweek say that the majority of migrants who might flee an economic collapse in Turkey would likely flood into Greece, not Germany.
“Erdoğan has been talking about sending people back to parts of Syria that Turkey controls. But many of the refugees are from the areas that [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad controls, they aren’t going to want to go to northern Syria,” says Alizira. “The so-called Balkan route has been closed down. If Turkey turns on the spigot, which is a terrible way to refer to refugees, they’ll go to Greece. If boats start to leave Turkey, it’ll be a problem for Greece. Beyond, I don’t think it’ll hurt the EU.”
“Clearly if Turkey’s economic crisis continues, if the government has to seriously reign in public funding, funding for refugee programs would have to be on the chopping block,” Ross Wilson, an expert on Turkey at the Atlantic Council in Washington D.C., told Newsweek. “But I doubt that there will be much impact in the short term.”