The number of civilians fleeing Syria's northwestern province of Idlib toward the Turkish border due to Syrian regime attacks has reached almost 500,000.
Speaking to Deutsche Welle Turkish, Turkish Red Crescent head Kerem Kınık said Turkey has been stepping up its preparations for a new refugee wave as the number of civilians fleeing Idlib reaches hundreds of thousands. "The regime's attacks on civilian settlements have triggered a new and major refugee flow. The number of civilians heading to our border has reached almost 500,000," Kınık said.
Kınık stated not all those fleeing have reached the border yet. "However," he added, "if the attacks continue, it is unavoidable that these people will turn up at the Turkish border."
"It is clear that the number will not be limited to 500,000. In Idlib, there are many more civilians who are unprotected," he said, underlining that a new refugee flow would affect not only Turkey but also Europe. Reiterating that since the eruption of the civil war the Turkish Red Crescent has been providing humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees both within and outside Turkey, Kınık said following the recent attacks, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) has also provided immediate shelter and food support to the civilians who came to the border.
Kınık expressed that the newcomers have been placed near certain camps near the border; however, if there is a major refugee flow, more international support will be needed.
The Interior Ministry has reportedly decided to help the refugees on the other side of the border rather than allowing them to enter Turkey; however, the ministry still has concerns regarding terrorists disguised as refugees trying to enter the country. Thus, it is reportedly working on a plan that would "isolate" the terrorists while still providing civilians protection.
Meanwhile, the population of Atmeh refugee camp, which has a capacity of 600,000 people, reached 1 million in the last three months due to refugees from Idlib. The camp is located near the Turkish border. The mobilization of local people has prompted fear of a new refugee crisis. This is not only a concern for Turkey, a country that already hosts nearly 3.6 million Syrian refugees, but would also have implications for Europe. It has been estimated that over 500,000 people may arrive in Turkey, from where they might attempt to cross into Europe.
Despite all the concerns regarding the condition of the civilians, the Assad regime seems to be overlooking the issue as it insists on its attacks. Airstrikes hit Idlib for the first time since a cease-fire was declared 10 days ago, a war monitor and opposition group spokesman said yesterday.
Syrian regime forces and their Russian allies unilaterally agreed on a truce on Aug. 31 in opposition-controlled Idlib, where a de-escalation zone was brokered two years ago.
Since Aug. 31, the intense airstrikes by Russian and Syrian warplanes that had accompanied a Syrian regime push to retake the area have stopped, although there has been ground fighting and shelling.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, based in Britain, said planes had carried out two raids on in the strategic Jabal al-Akrad mountain range near the western Latakia coast. It is not clear if these raids signal a return of the Russian and Syrian campaign of heavy airstrikes.
Mohammad Rashid, spokesman for the Jaish al-Nasr opposition faction, said the two raids, which he said had been carried out by Russian planes, were the first since the cease-fire began. The truce was the second declared in August in Idlib. A cease-fire in early August collapsed three days in, after which the Russian-backed army pressed its offensive and gained ground.
Meanwhile, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces called on the U.N. yesterday to provide immediate help to the civilians who fled from Idlib.
Sending a letter to the U.N., the head of the coalition, Anas al-Abdah, stated that the regime's attacks, its occupation of certain areas in Idlib and its destruction of the infrastructure causes civilian suffering in the province. He further underlined that the best solution for the displaced civilians is to accelerate the political solution process for the country.
Idlib, home to 1.5 million people, is the last opposition enclave in Syria. Last year, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin reached the Sochi agreement on Sept. 17. According to the agreement, the cease-fire in the Idlib region was to be preserved with the withdrawal of heavy arms and radicals from the region. The first meeting of the Astana process was held in Turkey in January 2017 to bring all warring parties in the Syrian conflict to the table to facilitate U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva.
Since the Sochi agreement was inked last year, nearly 750,000 civilians have been displaced during violations of the cease-fire. Furthermore, the Syrian Network for Human Rights announced that as a result of attacks on the de-escalation zone by Russia and the Assad regime since the end of April, 781 civilians have lost their lives, including 208 children and 140 women.