Refugees as Weapons: The Political Exploitation of Refugees

by Abdulaziz Abdulaziz

Rows of migrants pictured trudging through fields as they walk to reach Pazarakule at the Turkish border with Greece. Credits: Associated Press

The refugee crises have been severely escalating over the last two decades, and the numbers of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally-displaced people have exceeded 70 million. Most of them were displaced because of wars and human rights violations. Under these humanitarian catastrophes, in order to gratify their political megalomania, world governments have been weaponizing those crowds of refugees and using them to facilitate their political agendas.

On the domestic level, a popular way to exploit refugee crises is to shift public opinion on refugees from vulnerable displaced crowds whom countries should help, into dangerous migrants who threaten the national traditions and steal life opportunities away from nationals. Unsurprisingly, when they feel threatened, people become prejudiced, and thus they do anything in favour of their political groups, which they believe protect them, against all others. And public bias is what most political parties want. Therefore, many political parties have been promising less-informed but highly-frightened citizens that, once they win elections, they will expel expatriates and save their environments from such threats. Indeed, we have been witnessing various forms of hate propaganda induced by political parties, especially right-wing extremist and supremacist parties, for the purpose of political gain. For example, under the motto, “let us take care of our own,” propagandists are deluding host societies into thinking that immigrants are taking their work opportunities and changing their way of life. In addition to exploiting social and economic motives, discriminatory propagandist parties are triggering psychological illusions. For example, a study conducted in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada demonstrated that people become more hostile towards immigrants when they feel that they have no control over who enters their country, and this is exactly what anti-immigration parties have been promoting.

On an international level, a vicious form of weaponizing refugees is to use them to pressure other countries to act in a certain way, such as ceasing humanitarian protests, stopping or starting military interventions, or providing financial support. An example of this flagrant form of exploitation is the recent instrumentalization by Turkey and Europe of Syrian refugees on Turkish-Greek borders. After the so-called 2015 European refugee crisis in Europe, when enormous refugee influxes arrived from Turkey at the Greek borders, the EU presented a deal with Turkey to close its borders with Greece, preventing the flow of those influxes, while the EU, in turn, will provide Turkey with the financial help needed to deal with its refugee burden. However, in 2019-2020, claiming that the EU did not fulfill its financial responsibilities, and after several threats of breaking the 2015-2016 deal if these were not satisfied, Turkey reopened its borders with Greece, immediately leading to tremendous crowding of thousands of refugees on the Turkish-Greek land and sea borders. Those crowds have been faced with hostile deterrence by European powers, resulting in several deaths and terrible sufferings. Consequently, neglecting all these sufferings, the EU and Turkey renewed their diplomacies, returning those frightened refugees to Turkish lands.

Migrants crossing from Pazarkule, on the border with Greece, have clashed with riot police. Tear gas was fired into crowds including Syrians, Iranians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Moroccans. Credit: Anadolu Agency

In fact, although each political entity is trying to exculpate its responses and humanitize its acts, there is no single side that can be blamed for this terrible refugee weaponization. It is an international political network of exploitation. The language of politics has become inhumane while the only shelter for refugees are NGOs that are desperately trying to influence the political agendas. Unfortunately, politics and humanitarianism have been divided into two opposing spheres, instead of cooperation for the sake of humanity.

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