A new refugee wave that may possibly be triggered by deteriorating humanitarian conditions in northwestern Syria's Idlib might result in the collapse of the refugee deal between Turkey and the EU, a German research company said yesterday.
The southern parts of Idlib and northern Hama have been devastated by incessant attacks by the Bashar Assad regime and Russia. According to U.N. numbers, more than 1,000 civilians were killed in and around Idlib in the last four months.
Speaking to Deutsche Welle on the latest situation in Idlib, Panu Poutvaara, director of migration studies at the Munich-based Institute for Economic Research (IFO), stressed that Turkey would have a great drawback in fulfilling its political and economic commitments to the EU on the refugee deal if it faces a new refugee wave.
He added that such an outcome would trigger a huge increase in the number of refugees and will not only become a great problem for Turkey but also for Europe.
The escalating violence in Idlib has shattered a deal reached in September last year between Russia and Turkey to establish a buffer zone.
Despite eight months of calm provided by the Sochi deal, the regime, backed by Moscow, intensified its attacks starting on April 26 under the pretext of fighting the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terrorists holed up in Idlib. Since then, the situation has gotten worse, taking more civilian lives with each passing day.
Hosting more than 3.6 million refugees from Syria, Ankara often warns the international community and regional countries that a new offensive could trigger a fresh refugee wave toward the West.
The EU also called on the Bashar Assad regime and its backers to stop its attack on civilian infrastructure in Idlib. Giving a statement to Anadolu Agency (AA), officials from the EU Commission emphasized more than 1,000 civilians have been killed since four months and stressed that attacks on schools, medical centers and water plants are concerning. Giving a statement to Anadolu Agency (AA), an EU spokesperson emphasized that more than 1,000 civilians have been killed in four months, stressing that attacks on schools, medical centers and water plants are especially concerning.
"There is also a worrying pattern of attacks on critical civilian infrastructure, including health facilities, school and water facilities by the Syrian regime and its allies, and such attacks have to stop," the spokesperson said.
The EU also recalled that all parties to the conflict are bound to respect and uphold international humanitarian law and to ensure unhindered humanitarian access to all people in need. "We expect the Syrian regime and the Astana guarantors to fulfill immediately their responsibilities and commitments, and ensure the immediate protection of civilians. We reiterate the EU position that all the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity should be held accountable," the EU reiterated.
While civilians are being killed, the humanitarian activities in the region are also being constantly interrupted by the attacks as they are often targeted. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Wednesday that 51 medical facilities have been damaged as a result of the attacks. "I should not need to emphasize that these figures are appalling, shameful and deeply tragic," she said.
The Britain-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Save the Children, on the other hand, said that classes are set to start at the end of September, but just over half of the region's 1,193 schools can still operate. "As the new school year starts, the remaining functional schools can only accommodate up to 300,000 of the 650,000 school-age children," the NGO said, adding that the heavy bombardment since late April has damaged or impacted 87 educational facilities. A further 200 schools are being used as shelters for those displaced by the fighting, it added.
In late August, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said more than 400,000 civilians have been displaced in and around of Idlib. He also added that many displaced people now live in open spaces outside camps or under olive trees.