Post-Conference Interview with Aylin Ünver Noi on Migration in the Mediterranean and Turkey-Libya Re

During our annual NCUSLR conference held on November 13th, 2018 in Washington DC, many participants raised questions to the speakers that we could not respond to due to time limits.

As such, we have initiated a series of follow up interviews with our conference speakers to answer these lingering questions.

As you go through these questions and answers please keep in mind that neither the questions nor answers reflect the opinions of NCUSLR.

  • Dr. Hani Shennib

Presenter featured in the following interview:

Aylin Ünver Noi, Associate Professor in the Department of International Relations at Istinye University, Istanbul

Aylin Ünver Noi is an Associate Professor in the International Relations Department at Istinye University in Istanbul. She served as a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) from October 2016 to June 2018. Aylin is a Board Member and sits on the Advisory Council at the Mediterranean Citizens’ Assembly Foundation in Valencia. She was also an Associate Researcher at the Institute for Research on the Mediterranean and Euro-Arab Cooperation in Brussels.

Aylin was invited to speak at NCUSLR’s 2nd Annual Conference ‘Libya at the Crossroads’ on Panel I, The Libyan Political Process: Quo Vadis to address the topic of cross-Mediterranean migration. Professor Ünver Noi was unable to travel from Turkey to join us but shared the following thoughts for consideration.

Post-Conference Interview with Aylin Ünver Noi:

  • Turkey a benefactor or loser in the Mediterranean migration dynamic? Why is it interested in Libya? What is Europe’s current policy on cross-Mediterranean migration? Do you approve or disapprove? Why?

From beginning of the Syrian crisis, Turkey has kept its border open to Syrian refugees and established refugee camps. In 2012, Foreign Minister of Turkey noted that “Turkey could accept no more than 100,000 Syrian refugees. The United Nations should establish camps in free areas inside Syria”. Today, Turkey hosts more than 3 and half million refugees. More importantly the international community did not help Turkey in dealing with this crisis and Turkey has spent $30 billion on the refugees since 2011. 55,000 Syrians became Turkish citizens.

The number of refugee increases parallel the regime’s attacks in Syria. Idlib, which is the last remaining territory belonging to opposition groups, was a target of new attacks from Russian and Syrian forces that may cause a new refugee crisis from there to Turkey and then to Europe. There are not only opposition forces but also terror groups like Heyet Tahrir Sham exist in the region. The number of foreign fighters is estimated to be around 3000-4000 out of the 16000 fighters. This makes the Idlib issue a sensitive one not only for Turkey but also for Europe in terms of both new mass migration flow from the region (3.000.000 Syrians) and foreign fighters returning to their origin countries using Turkey as a transit country.

Ankara played an important role to prevent a humanitarian crisis, to protect civilians, and stop a new wave of refugee movement from the Idlib province by signing the Sochi Agreement with Russia on 17 September 2018. Also, two other European leaders French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel, and the Russian President Putin joined Turkish President Erdogan at Quartet Summit on Syria held in Istanbul on 27 October 2018 as part of efforts to seek new ways to find a political solution to the ongoing Syrian crisis. At this summit, leaders focused on non-military ways to establish a political solution in Syria including forming a committee to write a constitution for Syria and maintain Sochi Agreement for Idlib to prevent a new wave of refugee flow from the region to Turkey and Europe.

Ongoing civil war, rivaling factions and lack of governance has allowed human trafficking and smuggling networks to thrive. Europe has been faced with migration flow from Syria and Libya. Europe witnessed the biggest refugee flow in 2015 which paved the way for disagreement between the European Union member states, particularly between the Visegrad countries and western European countries on the relocation scheme for refugees. Turkey has been the main route for refugees to cross into Europe since the beginning of the civil war in Syria. The EU and Turkey signed the Refugee Deal on 18 March 2016 that provided a tighter control on refugee influx to Europe from Turkey. With this agreement, irregular arrivals decreased by around 99 percent, thus preventing the loss of many lives at sea.

The EU aims to have a deal with Libya similar to the deal made between the EU and Turkey, which massively stemmed the influx of refugees since 2016. However, the inability and reluctance of Libya’s internationally-recognized but weak government in accepting the EU’s proposal to set up a camp for African migrants made the issues more complicated for the EU.

The migration crisis has exposed vast division between EU member states and clash on EU-wide resettlement quota scheme for refugees. Hungary is one of the Visegrad countries refusing to take refugees under the EU-wide resettlement quota scheme. Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty - which is described as a nuclear option since it opens a path for sanctions against a member state and temporary loss of EU Council voting rights - was launched against Hungary this year. The EU’s decision behind this act has been Hungary’s attacks on migrants and the right of minorities as well as media, judiciary and academics that pose a systemic threat to the EU’s fundamental principles. The refugee crisis is still a subject of heated debate among EU member states that forces EU member states to reconsider their policies toward Libya due to ongoing influx of refugees from the region. That is why, this highlights the reality for them that it is not possible to resolve this issue without sorting out the current crisis in Libya. Steps taken to stabilize Libya convening Paris and Palermo Conferences might be interpreted from this perspective.

  • Turkey is accused of harboring and supporting extreme political islamists from Libya. How true is this and why?

The competition of international actors for influence in Libya continues. There is a competition between France and Italy as we have witnessed in the Paris and Palermo Conferences. Also there is another regional competition which is between the Turkey-Qatar and Egypt-Saudi Arabia blocs for influence in Libya.

Turkey overtly supported Arab Spring revolts and their democratic aspirations and was opposed to any coup d’etats attempts that can reverse this wave. Ankara supported and developed relations with political groups and parties which emerged as political entities inspired by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of Turkey. Turkey as a democratic, Muslim country with a secular constitution and economic success has been cited as a model for the region by these parties during the Arab Spring. As a part of this strategy, Turkey has supported Libya’s Justice and Construction Party since it was established in 2012.

Despite its NATO membership, Turkey was initially opposed to the military intervention of NATO in Libya and opted for peaceful regime change in Libya by arguing that military intervention in Libya would be counterproductive and just deepen the problems giving examples of past military operations and outcomes. The above mentioned reality that causes instability and civil war in Libya has jeopardized Turkey’s economic interests and investments that are worth 15 billion USD in Libya.

Turkey became one of the first countries that recognized the National Transitional Council as the sole representative of the Libyan people and appointed an Ambassador to Tripoli on 2 September 2011 after the full control of Tripoli by the National Transitional Council was established. Turkey has actively supported the Libyan political dialogue process facilitated by the United Nations throughout 2015 and followed meetings of the political dialogue participants and hosted various meetings of Libyan stakeholders.

On November 9, a delegation from Libya including Sarraj, Government of National Accord Foreign Minister Sayala, Central Bank President Al-Kabir and Deputy Health Minister, was hosted by Turkish government to discuss various issues between the two countries including visa exemption, reconstruction of the country and the return of Turkish contractors to Libya. At the meeting bilateral cooperation primarily the return of the Turkish company to complete the Ubari power plant, as well as the return of other companies with previous contracts to resume the implementation of stalled projects in Libya.

Turkey is trying to find a place in the Libya equation. Turkey supported and participated in the Palermo Conference that backed the efforts of United Nations Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salamé. However, it was excluded from unofficial meetings held at the Palermo Conference. Turkey withdrew from the conference after its exclusion and Vice President Oktay said that “Turkey is leaving the conference with deep disappointment.” He also emphasized that “unlike others, we are open to a broad dialogue with all Libyan and regional actors.”

Read her article on the Palermo conference here.

The views shared in this published interview reflect those of the guest contributor and not necessarily the views of the National Council on U.S.-Libya Relations.