Mass immigration as a political tool

By Stefanos Michelakakis and George Monopatis

Since  ancient times the phenomenon of immigration offered to some people the chance for a better life and to some others a rather sudden turbulence. Either it was to escape from a harsh environment or an invader, immigration provided a ray of hope for those who have lived a dog’s life. Nevertheless, the immigrant or refugee in a number of cases was exploited by individuals for the realisation of their ambitions in this eternal quest for power. The exploitation of population outflows doesn’t constitute an unusual circumstance.

Mass immigration a form of Hybrid warfare?
The strategic/political use of refugees and immigrants as a political tool can be signified as such: in and out of the country displacement of refugees-immigrants something which is being realized by a governmental or non-governmental actor with the aim of weakening a targeted population on the interior of a state or even to the extent of destabilizing a foreign country. With this in mind, population outflows can be used as an asymmetric pressure leverage against the sovereignty of a third state for the acquisition of concessions from the receiving end by the perpetrator. Undoubtedly, this action violates the international legal framework concerning the protection of immigrants nonetheless if the perpetrator deems that the expected benefits outweigh the expected marginal cost may proceed with the strategy of mass immigration against a country. The destabilization of a third country not by means of war but with a not so costly, in terms of money and manpower for the orchestrator, operation can be seen as form of hybrid warfare.

A contemporary case: Turkey
It is well known that during the presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdogan Turkey has adopted a revisionist foreign policy concerning the Eastern Mediterranean to the extent that aims to be elevated to the position of a regional power with a strong presence in the area. Towards the realization of the abovementioned goal, besides the conventional methods of warfare, Turkey also uses hybrid menaces such as the refugee flows from Syria.

With this in mind, refugee flows constitute one aspect of Turkey’s hybrid warfare which is being used in order to destabilize Greece and the member states of the European Union in general. This destabilization can be translated into political and economic problems for the aforementioned created by the refugee crisis. It’s worth mentioning the statements of Süleyman Soylu, former Minister of Interior, that the refugee flows coming from Turkey will create enormous problems in the economic systems of European states and change the political scenery. He then continued by saying that the European leaders cannot do anything about it and implied that this is a plan that the government of Turkey has been organizing for a long time. According to Amnesty International, refugees are forced to leave Turkey due to the fact that the latter hasn’t fully subscripted to international refugee law and as a result the rights of the refugees are limited and some are denied. Amnesty International also provides us with documents proving that the Turkish authorities force people to return to Syria or flee to Greece. At the same time there are reports by German newspapers and NGOs, that Turkey’s coast guards are either pushing refugees to Greece or they are not trying to stop the flows.

Turkey’s engineered mass immigration
The policy of Turkey towards the refugee crisis changed in the beginning of March, during the Greek national holiday and became more aggressive. This change was a result of the domestic pressure towards Erdogan due to the defeat in Syria and the casualties that the Turkish army suffered there. In order to find a solution to the crisis, which caused an uproar inside Turkey, Erdogan decided to send a large number of refugees and immigrants to the Greek-Turkish border in Evros. This move had two objectives, firstly the eradication of the internal unrest and secondly the pressuring and destabilization of the European states, which are against Turkey’s expansionist plans. Following Deutsche Welle’s news report, 12.000 refugees and immigrants were relocated to the Turkish borders ready to cross them to Greece with the aid of Turkish police and army, who were either helping them to find spots of unguarded Greek borders or they were supplying them with flashbang and stun grenades. There are also multiple reports stating that members of paramilitary groups were disguised as refugees in order to infiltrate Greece. Later on, the police used drones to coordinate the refugee waves and task forces of Turkish army appeared to further direct the border crossing. Meanwhile Erdogan and Cavusoglu amplified the information warfare and started spreading fake-news that the Greek police shot and killed refugees. In general, the Greek forces managed to repel the refugee and immigrant flows.Since then, Turkey tries to escalate the situation and provoke a heated incident given that there are reports of opening fire to Frontex and Greek guards by Turkish forces.

But why the use of refugees?
The European Union is afraid of the reappearance of a refugee crisis like the one in 2015 when approximately 1 million refugees came to Europe from Syria and Turkey. Erdogan acknowledges it, which is why he is exploiting this threat, meaning that if Europe doesn’t allow him to accomplish his imperialistic plans then numerous immigrant throngs will come to the west. Therefore, he has atypically connected the three fronts of his foreign policy with the refugees.

In October the Turkish president, announced his plans about the creation of a zone in north Syria, which he will control and where 2 million refugees and immigrants will be installed. According to Erdogan this can resolve the refugee crisis and its consequences for the E.U. Besides that, he uses the same tactic in Libya, where, under the pretext that the government of Al- Sarraj can control the refugee flows and terrorist groups, Turkey expresses support for
GNA. In reality, Turkey’s goal is to keep Sarraj in power, in order to benefit from the illegal, according to the law of the sea, Turkish- Libyan memorandum for the delimitation of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). In case the European Union provides aid to Khalifa Haftar or imposes sanctions to Turkey, then there is the possibility, based on Erdogan, that refugees and terrorist groups, like ISIS, will find breeding ground in Europe.

The third front of his foreign policy is the activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus. Turkey with its drill ships, Yavuz and Oruc Reis, carry out illegal activities aiming to find oil or natural gas, violating the sovereign rights of Cyprus. The E.U. under the threat of a refugee crisis settles with verbal convictions, leaving its member states helpless.

Relevant sources:
1. Greenhill, K. M. (2008). Strategic Engineered Migration as a Weapon of War. . Civil Wars,10(1), 6-21.
2. Third World Quarterly, 2017 VOL. 38, NO. 10, 2367–2385 ,Migration diplomacy in the Global South: cooperation, coercion and issue linkage in Gaddafi’s Libya, Gerasimos Tsourapas, Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK, a similar case and an ongoing crisis.


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Alexandros Sainidis

I am an International Relations Analyst and the creator of the blog Pecunia et Bellum. I have studied International, European and Area Studies at the Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences in Athens, Greece. I am a bilingual Russian speaker and I am currently learning Mandarin in order to gain a deeper understanding of the current International Affairs in Eurasia.

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