Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who views refugees as a political tool with which to blackmail other countries, will co-chair the first-ever UN Global Refugee Forum, Nordic Monitor has learned.
The forum, an initiative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), follows the new Global Compact on Refugees that was agreed last December by the UN General Assembly and is part of its implementation. It will be held December 17-18, 2019 in Geneva.
Under Erdoğan’s rule Turkey has become an international actor using refugees as a trump card to ramp up pressure on Europe and has been transformed into a country whose citizens were forced to flee their homes due to his anti-democratic rule and an ongoing bloody purge of Erdoğan critics.
The Turkish president has repeatedly threatened the European Union with an influx of refugees if no funds are given to his government for refugees. He continued his blackmail and reiterated on Thursday the same threat to prevent European leaders’ criticism of Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria. Erdoğan lashed out at the EU and warned he would “open the gates” if anyone called his offensive an “invasion.”
Erdoğan launched a Turkish offensive last week that aims at establishing a safe zone in northern Syria running parallel to Turkey’s border in order to settle millions of Syrian refugees. Following the military operation Syrian refugees will be forced to move to the new zone despite the fact such an action will not only directly violate laws and principles adopted by the international community over the past 70 years but will also change the demographics of northern Syria.
International laws and principles assert that refugees should be able to make a free choice about repatriation and must not be pressed into going back. They also stipulate that repatriation should take place in a safe and dignified manner, with refugees allowed to return at their homes. Moreover, the international community has agreed that the UN refugee agency should actively encourage people to return home only in situations where fundamental changes have taken place, such as a change of government, democratic elections or restoration of the rule of law.
Panos Moumtzis, UN regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis and former UNHCR regional coordinator for Syrian refugees, indicated the risk of demographic change and underlined that civilians must be spared in any Turkish military operation in northeast Syria, where the UN hopes that mass displacement and Srebrenica-like killings can be prevented. The UN currently delivers aid to 700,000 people in the densely populated northeast region of 1.7 million in Syria. “Any operation that takes place at the moment has to take into account to ensure that we don’t see any further displacement,” Moumtzis told reporters in Geneva, saying that “for us as the UN, the safe zone concept is one that we have a bitter history [with] and actually we never promote or encourage.”
Some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb troops in 1995 in a UN-declared safe zone in Srebrenica, where Dutch peacekeepers were unable to protect civilians.
According to statistics, the number of asylum seekers from Turkey in Europe and neighboring countries has increased noticeably in recent years, especially after a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 after which the government started arresting tens of thousands of people including journalists, academics and human rights defenders on dubious charges. Many Turks have been forced to flee their homeland because of the ongoing witch-hunt due to their links to the Gülen movement, a civic group that is highly critical of the Erdoğan government for corruption and the aiding and abetting of armed jihadist groups.
For instance, there were more than 10,000 asylum applications from Turks in Germany in 2018, a number that has grown drastically since 2016. Between 2013 and 2015 only about 1,800 Turks sought asylum in Germany each year. That number rose to 5,742 in 2016, according to the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). In 2017, there were 8,483 applications.
Unfortunately, some fleeing Turkey have lost their lives in the Aegean Sea or the Evros River. Greek media recently reported that an inflatable boat carrying 16 people affiliated with the Gülen movement en route to the Greek island of Lesbos in the North Aegean capsized, with seven people including five children drowning and nine rescued. The group was trying to escape the persecution of President Erdoğan’s government.
The Global Refugee Forum, which is being held at the ministerial level, will be co-hosted by Switzerland and UNHCR and co-convened by Turkey, Germany, Ethiopia and Costa Rica. In addition to the Turkish president, the UN secretary-general is also expected to attend.
According to its official web page, the forum seeks to improve the global response to refugee situations by providing stronger support to the countries and communities welcoming refugees and simultaneously equipping refugees with the means to become more self-reliant. The event will bring together governments, international organizations, local authorities, civil society, the private sector, host community members and refugees themselves and will focus on six areas: arrangements for burden and responsibility-sharing, education, jobs and livelihoods, energy and infrastructure, solutions, and protection capacity.