For years, millions of asylum seekers were kept in Turkey as Ankara forbid them from crossing the border to seek asylum elsewhere and denied them the right to apply for asylum in Turkey.
In recent weeks, however, asylum seekers have been able to flee harsh conditions in Turkey for the safety of the European Union and Greece. Turkey has ramped up its threats to Greece and is telling its citizens to leave coronavirus-affected Europe.
Turkey is trying to bring home up to 3,600 of its citizens from Europe on 34 specially chartered Turkish Airlines flights, aiding them as Turkey leaves 10,000 people stranded on the Greek border who are trying to flee Turkey.
Ankara claims the vulnerable and poor asylum seekers are being met with rubber bullets and riot police at the Greek border. Turkey says 147,000 of them have crossed since February 27, when it allowed them to. They are so desperate to leave Turkey that they brave the riot police and difficulties hoping to finally be able to apply for asylum.
According to a 2018 Human Rights Watch report, the EU had agreed to pay Turkey more than €3 billion to keep refugees in Turkey. But Turkey began to prevent the refugees, mostly from Syria, from receiving basic rights.
“Turkish authorities in Istanbul and nine provinces on or near the Syrian border have stopped registering all but a handful of recently arrived Syrian asylum seekers,” the report said. “The suspension is leading to unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria and denial of healthcare and education.”
Desperate not to return to Syria, where they may be persecuted, and unable to get rights or education or health care in Turkey, the refugees are now able to flee to Europe. However, this comes at the worst possible time, as the EU is pushing full border closures and lockdowns amid the coronavirus pandemic. In this macabre situation, Turkey is doing everything it can to bring its own citizens back from Europe, while quietly pushing refugees and asylum seekers to go to Europe.
This could strand asylum seekers in Greece and keep them out of areas they want to go in other European countries.
Turkey has already banned or will soon ban travel from the UK, Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, Spain, France, Austria, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands and advised against travel to these countries.
This creates an alarming situation for refugees and migrants. Unable to get asylum or healthcare in Turkey, and apparently unable to access tests for coronavirus, they are being crowded toward the Greece border to a Europe that is shutting down and has a pandemic outbreak.