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Editorial: Europe cannot wash its hands of the horror on the Greece-Turkey border

EUROPEAN attempts to blame Turkey for the horrific violence being deployed against refugees on the Greek-Turkish border will not cut it.

Desperate children, women and men along the Evros river are literally trapped. As Greek ministers brag that “none will get through,” Turkey deploys police to prevent them from returning.

Those driven back by water cannon and tear-gas meet further volleys coming from the opposite direction.

EU foreign ministers berate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for using refugees as a “bargaining chip” — before offering him more money to keep up his side of the infamous 2016 accord by which the EU deports asylum-seekers from its territory to be held in camps in Turkey, despite warnings from UN experts that the latter did not qualify as a “safe third country” and that the deal was illegal.

It is unclear whether the sop will work. Turkey is correct to point out that the EU never fully delivered on the promises it made to secure the sordid agreement, which included fast-track visas for Turkish citizens. 

More significantly, Erdogan is pursuing an aggressively expansionist agenda and intends to punish the EU for its failure to co-operate.

He has sent thousands of troops into Syria to crush Kurdish militias and shore up jihadist forces trying to hold off the Syrian Arab Army in Idlib, a project which appears to entail the long-term illegal occupation of parts of that country.

He has also redeployed jihadist forces from Syria to Libya, where Turkey is backing the UN-recognised government in Tripoli against the revolt by rebel Libyan National Army general Khalifa Haftar in a conflict which has turned that long-suffering country — at war ever since Nato helped rebel militias overthrow Muammar Gadaffi in 2010 — into a battleground for rival global powers. 

Erdogan’s anger at EU criticism of these policies triggered the decision to open his country’s border, prompting thousands of the 3.6 million refugees trapped there to try to reach Greece.

If this has seriously exacerbated the human crisis on the EU’s borders, it has not created it. 

EU and British refusal to offer sanctuary to victims of wars our governments have either started or are deeply complicit in, from Afghanistan through Libya to Syria and Yemen, and the cynical assumption that we could wash our hands of these refugees by bribing the brutal and authoritarian government in Ankara to hold onto them, sowed the seeds of the current nightmare.

The savagery of Greece’s response to people trying to cross the Evros or make the journey by sea — which has already seen a child drowned, refugee boats fired on and a  man shot dead — has won the country accolades from European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen as Europe’s “shield.”

But Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s appeal for popular “help” to keep refugees out is, as socialist author and campaigner Kevin Ovenden warns, “a magnet to attract every fascist and racist activist in Greece and beyond.”

We already have verified cases of German neonazis travelling to Greece with the aim of attacking refugees. The Communist Party of Greece warns that ministers risk “legitimising far-right voices and actions.”

So too does scaremongering over the spread of coronavirus. While extremely serious, the weaponisation of this epidemic to bash immigrants must be universally condemned, and the growing frequency of racist attacks supposedly inspired by it must be confronted head-on by the left.

Britain may no longer be part of the EU, but it is complicit in the EU-Turkey accord signed when it was a member and has contributed more than most to the wars raging across large swathes of the Middle East that have done so much to create the global refugee crisis.

We have a duty of solidarity with the victims of these wars. That solidarity is unlikely to come from our government. It has to come from us.

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