As Syrian refugees, along with Afghan and West-African migrants, once again crowd the border between Turkey and Greece, we spoke on the phone with MP Jussi Halla-aho, chair of the Finns Party and leader of the opposition, about his views on what is gearing up to be another migrant crisis.
Following an escalation of the Syrian conflict and a new influx of refugees from northwestern Syria to Turkey, Turkish president Erdogan announced recently that Turkey will be opening its borders for the 3.7 million refugees already housed there. This move marked the end of the 2016 EU-Turkey agreement, according to which Turkey kept its border with Europe closed to refugees in exchange for financial compensation from the EU, in order to halt the steady influx of refugees to Europe.
What are your main concerns regarding the opening of Turkish borders for Europe-bound Syrian refugees?
In my opinion, the European Union has acted very irresponsibly by outsourcing its border control to a country like Turkey. That is, bribing Turkey to do the dirty work on our behalf. I think the European Union should take its external borders under its own control instead of asking and paying Turkey to do that.
So you don’t think that the 2016 EU-Turkey deal should remain in place?
Well, officially there is no deal; it was only an understanding between the EU and Turkey. I said already at the time that Turkey is not a reliable partner, and this understanding made it possible for Turkey to blackmail the European Union, just like it is doing at the moment.
But I’m not blaming either Mr Erdogan or Turkey. He is serving his national interest, or at least believes he is serving his national interest. Instead, we should focus on our own inability to make decisions that would prepare the European Union for illegal migrations.
How should the European Union act in order to achieve this and at the same time avoid a potential humanitarian disaster at its borders?
There is already a humanitarian disaster at our borders, on both sides of the border. On the Greek islands, in Turkey, in Syria. Naturally, we should try to address the root causes of this misery, but I am afraid the European Union does not have the financial or political or military muscles to do that.
I spent five years in the European Parliament while the EU was trying to create a common European asylum system. It didn’t go very well, and as I understand, the Commission has now decided to withdraw its proposal for the new Dublin regulation with its automatic burden-sharing mechanism. Because that’s not really a solution. Any burden-sharing, any redistribution of asylum seekers from Greece or Italy only encourages more people to come to Europe in the hope that they will end up in their country of destination, usually Germany or the Netherlands, Sweden, or even Finland.
Unfortunately, we just wasted the last five years, after the 2015 crisis, and were unable to make any structural changes in our asylum legislation. Now we are in the middle of a potential crisis. We should now help Greece to physically protect its border, to prevent people from crossing the border to Europe. Our next solution is that all European countries should re-establish internal border checks in order to stop secondary movement inside Europe. All EU member states should categorically reject asylum applications from people who are arriving from another EU member state. In other words, we should stop this asylum shopping and secondary movement. It should be made clear to people who are coming to Europe or thinking of coming to Europe that Greece or Italy is as far as they would get. That would also discourage people from attempting the crossing.
What do you expect the Finnish government’s policy to be regarding this looming crisis? There has already been talk of taking in a certain number of refugees.
Objectively speaking, whether we take in a couple hundred people from Greece doesn’t make any difference one way or another. That will not even remotely help solve the crisis. Of course, it would create additional problems in Finland, but that’s another matter.
The current government is the most migration-friendly government Finland has ever had, in my opinion. They have no regard for our national security, for the safety of our own people, and I don’t expect any responsible actions from this government, especially from the minister of internal affairs.