Syr­ian and Iraqi con­flicts move Tur­key to the heart of Europe’s refugee cri­sis, By Ah­mad Al Rou­san and Na­bil Al-Tikriti


As the in­ter­twined con­flicts of Iraq and Syria con­tinue to evolve and the re­gional state sys­tem de­volves, ef­forts to re­gion­al­ize the tur­moil con­tinue to fail. By rep­u­ta­tion, con­flict has al­ways been present in the Mid­dle East; but what has emerged since 2011 in the arc be­tween Bagh­dad and Aleppo re­de­fines the term for the civil­ians ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it. In one sense at least, Tur­key finds it­self at the epi­cen­ter of this grad­ual de­vo­lu­tion While Asia Mi­nor has for cen­turies served as a cross­ing point and Tur­key has long been a key transit route, re­cent fig­ures on ex­tra-le­gal move­ment trump all re­cent out­comes, with Tur­key now by far the pri­mary route for Mid­dle Eastern refugees flee­ing war and con­flict. Ac­cord­ing to Fron­tex, the EU mi­gra­tion mon­i­tor­ing, con­trol and pol­icy co­or­di­na­tion agency, in the past cou­ple of years four routes into Europe orig­i­nat­ing in Tur­key have rapidly grown to both match and aug­ment the mag­ni­tude of North African ori­gin routes in terms of Syr­i­ans, Iraqis and Pales­tini­ans flee­ing con­flict. Much of this evo­lu­tion in mi­gra­tion rout­ing fol­lows pol­icy dik­tats; like an in­flated bal­loon ad­just­ing to the squeeze of one’s hand, in­creased bor­der en­force­ment mea­sures along one transit route tend to shift move­ments to al­ter­na­tive ones.

In this arena, ter­mi­nol­ogy it­self is part of the prob­lem. Euro­pean pol­i­cy­mak­ers rou­tinely dis­count the cri­sis in­volved in such hu­man flight as a prob­lem of “smug­glers” and “mi­grants,” both of whom need to be po­liced and chan­neled in or­der to de­fend Europe. As some com­men­ta­tors have pointed out, the very use of the term “mi­grant” is part of the prob­lem, es­pe­cially in a con­text where so many of those in transit clearly meet the in­ter­na­tional stan­dard -- if not yet the le­gal sta­tus -- of “refugees” flee­ing con­flict in Syria, Iraq and else­where. In ad­di­tion, in some cases the phe­nom­e­non is more one of “hu­man traf­fick­ing” than “hu­man smug­gling,” whereby those in transit come to owe their bod­ies, as­sets or debt in one form or another to those man­ag­ing the move­ments. When those in flight have suf­fi­cient means, there is never a case of “traf­fick­ing,” only “smug­gling.” At the same time, how­ever, when those in flight have noth­ing more than their bod­ies, time or la­bor to of­fer, the ex­ploita­tion sig­ni­fied by the term “hu­man traf­fick­ing” does not end, even upon ar­rival in Europe. In some cases, those in flight move from “traf­fick­ing” to “smug­gling” the mo­ment they board a boat, which can mark the end of a se­ries of trans­ac­tions be­tween those man­ag­ing such hu­man cargo and those pay­ing out of des­per­a­tion for the priv­i­lege to be man­aged as hu­man cargo. As gray as such terms ap­pear when ap­plied in prac­tice, this dis­tinc­tion is cru­cial in terms of so­cial per­cep­tion and le­gal pro­tec­tion be­cause hu­man smug­gling is per­ceived as a crime of illegal immigration re­quir­ing ro­bust polic­ing of borders, whereas hu­man

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