By : Polychronis Kapalidis

MA in IR and Global Security

Navy Officer, Hellenic Navy

Visiting Research Fellow, Dartmouth Centre for Seapower and Strategy

Plymouth University at Britannia Royal Naval College


Currently Europe is shaken by an unprecedented crisis, consisting of masses of irregular migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East, trying to reach the heart of Europe in search for a better life. This crisis has its roots in the political upheaval in the Middle East and Africa, which started in 2011, in the series of events known as Arab Spring, and culminated in the Syrian civil war and the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East.

These events induced conditions of extreme agony and uncertainty, forcing people to flee from their homelands in search for safety, with Europe being the most attractive destination due to its proximity and prevailing humanitarian values. Greece is one of the main gateways into Europe for migrants and refugees, making this country the first one to deal with the challenges of this phenomenon.

The migrants and refugees arriving in Greece, follow a land route, commonly known as the “Balkan Route”, in order to reach central Europe (mainly Germany and Sweden). This route passes through FYROM, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary and Austria, subsequently affecting those countries. On February 2016, following a request by Greece, Turkey and Germany, NATO established a permanent presence in the Aegean Sea in order to combat the ongoing human smuggling and prevent migrant movement from Turkey to the Greek islands.

This article is part of a larger research project on the manipulation of the refugee crisis as a foreign policy tool in the context of Greek-Turkish-EU Relations. The main argument of the research is that understanding the ongoing refugee crisis solely from a humanitarian perspective, although essential, is not sufficient anymore. It has developed into a cross-sectoral issue within the realm of state security and foreign policy.

In this context the research’s main objectives are as follows:

  1. Assist policy makers and academia perceive the importance of discourse regarding the refugee crisis
  2. Test the theoretical model of Coercive Engineered Migration (CEM)[1], and
  3. Compare Greek and Turkish Foreign Policy

This short paper will briefly summarize the current findings of the research project which were initially presented at the SLSA Annual Conference at Newcastle University in April 2017. An updated version will be presented at the UACES Annual Conference in Jangellonian University, Krakow, Poland in September.


Theoretical Approaches

Securitizing migration

Securitization theory as an International Relations theory stems from the Copenhagen School and the core theory of constructivism. As a theory, securitization suggests that actors project the emergency situation over a specific issue in their discourse by transforming subjects into matters of ‘security’; in this case, its the refugee crisis that has been securitized. In other words, paraphrasing what Wendt[2] stated about anarchy, security is what states make of it.


Migration and National Security

It would not be excessive to point out that the characterization of migration as a sui generis phenomenon or even a “problem”, is closely related to the establishment of the Westphalian system and the concept of nation-state. As Hollifield[3] argues, it was through this system that the population of Europe was, for the first time, tied to geographical boundaries.

Migration, either forced or voluntary, causes both positive and negative effects in the host state. Almost all researchers admit that the hosting state’s economy benefits the most by migration (not limited on the refugee crisis but in all migration flows).

The basic benefit of migration on the economy is the provision of active and cheap labourers. Martell[4] supports that migrants assist with the demographic decline that is observed in several European states, namely Greece. Finally, a contested argument suggests that in wealthy countries the presence of migrants enriches the cultural diversity of the society, allowing new ideas to flourish and promoting the concepts of equality and democracy.

On the other hand, uncontrolled migration flows have several negative effects on the hosting state, challenging in several aspects its security. Initially, as regards the state’s societal security uncontrolled migration jeopardises the sense of unity, core identity and tradition. It boosts racism, xenophobia and social tensions between pro and anti-migrant parties.

Furthermore, the domestic or homeland security is one of the primary targets for radical migrants. The core example is 9/11. A study, in the aftermath of 9/11, in the US indicates, and again, this is discourse related, that although not all immigrants are terrorists all, or nearly all, terrorists in the West have been immigrants. The presence of foreigners with, rather, distinct religious and cultural characteristics, to the host country could further:

  1. Provide resources that help fuel internal conflicts (radicalization).
  2. Provide opportunities for organized crime networks.
  3. Providing conduits for international terrorism.

Finally, another area where migration is perceived to have negative effects on hosting states is public security, due to the increased levels of criminality. Overloaded prisons, unworkable penitentiary system, new forms of criminal activities, rather brutal and cruel, in several cases, create a sense of despair and insecurity in local populations.


Coersive Engineered Migration: Testing the theory

Reviewing the abovementioned arguments, migration is, without a shadow of a doubt, capable of having significant effects on the hosting states. Due to this situation, researchers have suggested that migration could be used by states or other actors, to put pressure among them and thus promote their interest in expense of others. This conclusion places migration directly into the realm of Foreign Policy.

According to Greenhill, CEM is created by three distinct types of actors:

  1. Generators: Actors who directly create population movements unless targets concede to their demands.
  2. Agents provocateurs: Actors who do not create migration directly but deliberately act to incite others to generate population outflows.
  3. Opportunists: Actors who to not play a direct role in the migration crisis, but exploit such population movements to their own benefit.

The reason seems to be that western societies when facing migration crisis, due to their core values, tend to split into two groups, the pro-migrant and the anti-migrant. The problem that arises is that the political leadership cannot simultaneously satisfy both groups, making them eager to end the migration crisis as soon as possible.


Refugee crisis as a foreign policy tool

The reality in Greece

Since the outbreak of the 2009 financial crisis, the Greek political scene has been in turmoil, as no government has been able to manage the public discontent caused by the austerity measures implemented to prevent bankruptcy in Greece. During the election campaign, “Syriza” promoted an open policy towards incoming migrants from the Middle East, who were, until then, relatively few.

This policy, declared in the “Syriza” Founding Conference, called for an abolition of all existing European migration agreements, in order for migrants and refugees, already in Greece, to travel freely to the countries they desired. Furthermore, it proposed that there should be no restrictions in granting asylum to refugees and that the process of returning migrants to their countries of origin should cease.

However, reaching a conclusion that the changes in the Greek migration policy actually sparked the entire migration crisis is not very well founded. The reason is that, whereas Greece experienced increased migrant flows, at the same that applied for both Italy and Spain, although at a smaller scale. If Greece solely provoked migrants and refugees to pass over to Europe, the flows would have been directed exclusively to Greece, showing a decrease or even a halt for the other countries.

The cause-and-effect diagram, below illustrates that the causes are multiple. This confrontation between Greece and the EU, regarding the management of this crisis, resulted in Greece’s marginal avoidance of being de facto expelled from the Schengen Agreement, and damaging its relations with EU member states, and the neighbouring Balkan counties.

It should not be neglected that, currently, Greece is still struggling with its worst economic crisis since World War II, which caused an overall reduction of the country’s overall GDP by roughly 25% in six years, and is still far from over.

As far as the Greek FP is concerned, migration shifted from being a secondary issue, to a primary one, arising to the same level of importance as the negotiations to avoiding bankruptcy. In this context, it could be argued that the situation in Greece reaffirms a generalised argument that, migration, as suggested by several scholars, has a destabilizing effect on weak or failing states.


The reality in Turkey

 …”Turkey, itself overwhelmed with migrants from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and now Syria, wants to get rid of them”. The quote by Murat Celikkan, a civil-rights activist aptly describe Turkey’s own refugee crisis. Even though, in several cases the Turkish government has been accused of exploiting the refugee crisis to promote its FP aspirations, the aforementioned ascertainment should not be neglected.

If this fact is analysed through the prism of the current political unrest in the country, fuelled up by the failed coup d’état attempt in 2016, the Turkish constitutional referendum in April 2017 and the continuous confrontations between the Turkish President and European Leaders, it illustrates the scale of the problem.


Refugee crisis and foreign policy

The research findings so far suggest that a state’s Migration Policy and its Foreign Policy are virtually inseparable and affect one another. To be precise, even before the migration crisis, relations between the EU and Greece have been tense, due to the Eurozone crisis. This confrontation reached its climax in July 2015 when the Greek Syriza-led government tried to forcefully renegotiate the bailout terms, leading Greece to the brink of exiting the Eurozone.

EU officials commented that such actions consisted a form of blackmail that would not be tolerated, while the European Commission asked Greece for assurances that no measures to open the detention camps would be taken. Furthermore, almost all EU commentators implied that in the eventuality of Greece opening its borders to migrants, its position in the Schengen Area should be reconsidered.

The fact that the Greek Government overtly attempted to utilise the effects of the refugee crisis as a bargaining tool for bailout negotiations with the EU is further put forward from the statements made by Greek government officials.

Either more moderate where “Greece’s migration crisis could have resounding implications on Europe, due to its proximity to unstable regions and its current economic crisis” (Greece’s FA Minister, 2015), or more aggressive, warning that “If they deal a blow to Greece, then they should know that the migrants will get papers to go to Berlin”(Greece’s DoD Minister, 2015), the Greek Government aimed at a collective response, putting forward that “the migration crisis is a European problem”.

Turkey, however, has proven to be a key actor in this crisis, as it skilfully exploited the refugee’s exodus from its territory. Apart from the 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey which included generous financial aid to the latter its government officials are clearly trying to expoit NATO’s presence in the Aegean Sea to promote its revisionist policies and claims of Greek territories, disputing over Greece’s sovereignty on several islands.



International Organisations and European governments have been highly critical of Greece’s stance towards the ongoing crisis. UN statements were released, accusing the Greek government for lack of leadership, ambition and coordination, to the extent that all external help provided to Greece was annulled by this Situation.

EU discourse disposition was especially negative towards Greece, as it was accused failing to implement adequate measures to counterbalance the migrant influx. The Visegrad Group (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic) held a conference defending the policy of border controls, and suggesting that, since Greece seemed unable to control its borders, the EU should enforce border controls in the Greek-FYROM and Greek-Bulgarian borders, effectively excluding Greece from the Schengen Area and containing the refugees already in Greek soil.

Turkey, as argued above, skilfully exploited the refugee’s exodus from its territory. Examining whether its policy may or may not constitute of a CEM it can be safely assessed that, indeed it is a CEM, since Turkey launched against the EU, the very threats Greenhill suggests in her CEM theory: capacity swamping (by increasing the migrant influx at will) and political agitation (by invoking the humanitarian values of Europe). Using the same theoretical approach it could further be supported that in the current crisis, Turkey acted as “Generator”[5].



The foregoing analysis signified that the crisis has damaged Greece’s overall interests as regards its Foreign Policy aspirations. Contrariwise, Turkey was, and still is, the key actor in the entire migration crisis, as it has the ability to regulate the migration flows.

However, although Turkey’s CEM was more or less successful, Greece utterly failed to gain any concessions from Europe. Greece failed to impose its economic agenda to the EU, was threatened with Schengen expulsion, and ended up as the “black sheep” of the EU with scores of migrants and refugees stuck in its territory. Finally, we can conclude that Turkey was able to project itself as the most essential actor in the negotiations on the migration crisis, rendering Greece a mere pariah, trying to catch up with the course of events.

What remains undisputable is that the ongoing refugee crisis is critical in contemporary political discourse in the majority of the European states; a fact further enriched from the key role in discourse the effects of the refugee crisis had over the BREXIT campaign.


[1] Greenhill K. (2010) “Weapons of mass migration: Forced displacement as an instrument of coercion” Strategic Insights, Available at: (Accessed 27 March 2017)

[2] Wendt, Alexander, “Anarchy is what States Make of It: the Social Construction of Power Politics”, International Organization 46, no. 2 (Spring 1992): 391–425.

[3] Hollifield J. (2012) “Migration and International Relations” Oxford Handbook of the politics of International Migration, Available at:

-9780195337228-e-15 (Accessed on 10 March 2017)

[4] Martell L. (2010) “The sociology of globalization” Chapter Six, Polity Press 2010, Available

at: (Accessed on 27 March 2017)

[5] CEM practices are not uncommon for Turkey. On the contrary, Greenhill lists two cases of confirmed Turkey-generated CEMs: one in 1991, targeting the US (in search of financial aid), and the second in 1998 targeting Italy (demanding its support in the EU). In the first case, Turkey acted as an Opportunist and in the second, as a Generator. Both of them are considered successful.


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