Turkey threatens Europe with refugee crisis

Cold comfort: On the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing by dinghy from Turkey on Monday. © Getty

Should Europe welcome more refugees? Turkey has “opened the human floodgates” in retaliation for lack of support in Syria. Rich, Western nations are trapped in an agonising, moral dilemma.

On the edge of the EU, where Greece meets Turkey, families wade across a shallow river. A woman holds a five-day-old baby in her arms. Others bring their lives in shopping bags.

They are desperate. Turkey’s prime minister has just announced that he would no longer stop the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in his country from reaching his wealthy neighbours to the West. Seizing the opportunity, thousands set off to the Greek border.

The authorities have made it clear that they are not welcome, warning: “You will be turned back.” This week, they have been firing at the gathering crowds. A few refugees have been killed. The Greek prime minister accused Turkey of turning “people smuggler”, busing refugees to the border.

Turkey is the last stop for migrants from across Africa and the Middle East, heading for Europe. It also shares a border with Syria, where the nine-year civil war has displaced over 13.5 million people. In 2016, Turkey promised to restrict the flow of refugees in return for six billion euros from the EU to help manage the crisis.

Now, Turkey wants financial and military support to fight the Syrian regime and protect civilians at risk within Syria. And by threatening a “flood” of refugees into Europe, it is putting pressure on EU leaders.

Is there now a case for Europe to open its borders and take on more refugees?

Some argue Europe has done its bit. Before 2016, half a million Syrians arrived in Europe. Thousands settled in northern countries, but many more are still stuck in Greece because of border restrictions imposed by countries like Austria, Serbia, and Macedonia. The migrant crisis increased support for far-right and populist parties across Europe.

Critics argue this is a tiny number compared to the millions in Turkey or the 1.5 million in Lebanon, a country three times smaller than Belgium.

Europe can take more, but the current rules need to be changed. At the moment, refugees claim asylum in the first EU country they enter and this puts all of the burden on Greece and Italy.

Others fear refugees are a threat to society. Populist leaders like Viktor Orban in Hungary say refugees lack Western values and harbour terrorists.

However, academic studies show the opposite: those who choose to move to Europe are less radical and more pro-Western than those who stay behind.

Another concern is that refugees put a strain on local services, housing, schools, and hospitals. Still, many Syrians are entrepreneurs and highly-qualified, helping the economy in their host society. In this way, they follow a tradition of refugees contributing to society, from the Huguenots to the German Jews.

Open and shut case

We can debate the costs and benefits of accepting more refugees, but the bigger question is whether Europe has a responsibility to the millions made homeless by civil war. The priority of any government is the protection and well being of its citizens, but does it also have a duty towards people beyond its borders?

Those who argue for taking on more refugees say this is a basic humanitarian obligation. Those against believe a country’s citizens must always come first.

You Decide

  1. If you could pick just one other country to move to, which would it be? And why?
  2. Is there a difference between a migrant and a refugee?


  1. Imagine you are a refugee crossing the border into Europe. Write a diary entry about your hopes and fears for the future.
  2. A family of refugees is being resettled in your community. In groups of four, discuss the problems they and the community may face and how you can help them to integrate.

Some People Say...

“It is the obligation of every person born in a safer room to open the door when someone in danger knocks.”

Dina Nayeri, Iranian novelist and former refugee

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The scale of the Syrian refugee crisis is enormous. Nearly six million people have fled the country and a further 6.2m are displaced internally. At least half of those affected are children. All sides agree that they desperately need humanitarian support, and that there is little chance they will be able to return home in the near future.
What do we not know?
There is much dispute about where the refugees should go. The neighbouring countries (Turkey, Iraq, and Lebanon) have taken on the most refugees, which makes sense if it takes one day to return to Syria. And, in recent years, the EU has preferred to give aid to these countries rather than accept refugees themselves, conscious that popular opinion is against the idea.

Word Watch

People smuggler
Under the 2016 deal with the EU, Turkey is responsible for stopping human traffickers, or people smugglers, from helping people cross the EU border.
Either people’s homes have been destroyed, or it is not safe for them to return home.
Syrian regime
Led by President Bashar al-Assad, with the support of Iran and Russia, the regime has been fighting rebel and Islamist groups since 2011.
Northern countries
Germany and Sweden took the largest numbers of refugees.
Border restrictions
In response to the migrant crisis, some countries controlled the number of refugees or closed their borders entirely.
The right to international protection for those fleeing their home country.
To protect, sympathise or actively support people planning acts of terror.
Someone who takes risks to set up their own business.
A third of Syrian refugees were previously employed in high-skilled or professional jobs in Syria.
French Protestants who fled persecution in the 17th Century.


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