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