Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Europe on 22 December that his country cannot handle a new wave of Syrian refugees, adding that over 80,000 people from Idlib had fled to areas near the Turkish border. According to Turkish authorities, Turkey already hosts around 5 million refugees, of which 3.7 million are Syrians.
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Erdogan is under growing pressure at home to find a solution to tensions, perceived and real, between Syrian refugees and the Turkish communities hosting them. The slowing Turkish economy, in particular, has provoked rising anti-Syrian sentiment, with hard-up Turks quick to blame Syrians for their troubles. The buffer zone has long presented a publicly palatable way to push Syrians back into Syria, regardless of their connection to the region or even their willingness to go back. In recent months, Turkey has been forcibly deporting Syrians across the border, despite claiming the contrary, in a move that is no doubt designed to ease public criticism of the government’s management of the country’s Syrian population.
There have also been reports that Turkey has provided additional weaponry for rebel forces, including TOW missiles that the United States (US) has to approve for release from storage. That the US would allow the insurgents to be bolstered in this way reflects its own opposition to a military campaign. However, this counter-escalation may lead to greater Iranian support for its Syrian ally.
Five million Syrians currently live outside Syria, and a similar number is internally displaced. Almost half of the working population is unemployed, and the remainder is facing poverty and starvation. About 300,000 people have died and about 250,000 are imprisoned or victims of forced disappearances. The army is fatigued and has fragmented into dozens of militias affiliated with various local, regional and international parties. ether official reconstruction programs are faced with threats of more sanctions and blockades on economic activities in the country.
As the number of out-of-school children looms both inside Syria and in host countries, these invisible wounds won’t be healed unless large humanitarian groups and U.N. agencies team up with local and grassroots organizations inside Syria and out. They need to address the mental health and public health challenges in parallel with educational programming.
‘Russia’s de-escalation zones are now crumbling, as all major actors inside and outside Syria now seek to define the terms of the “post-IS” reality,’ he wrote. ‘Without major international effort, further regime chemical attacks, indiscriminate bombing and the targeted destruction of civil facilities are likely to continue unabated.’