Some 561,746 civilians returned to their homes despite violations of the cease-fire that was struck between Turkey and Russia in March 2020 in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, Mohammad Hallaj, the director of Syria's Response Coordination Group, stated Tuesday.
Hallaj told Anadolu Agency (AA) that hundreds of thousands returned after March 6, 2020, to Idlib and Aleppo’s rural sites.
He highlighted that most of the returnees are in need of aid coming from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and warned civilians to be careful of bomb remnants in the places they returned to. Hallaj stated that more civilians could return if the cease-fire holds.
“The cease-fire agreement in Idlib in March 2020 was accompanied by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which we believe has had a major impact on the capabilities of the Syrian regime army and the Iranian militias affiliated with it. Thus, this contributed to a decline in bombardment operations against civilians, leading to a decline in civilian casualties,” the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) stated.
Syrians displaced in several regions, either by terrorist organizations or the assaults of the Assad regime, have sought refuge in Turkey. Nearly 1 million had fled from Syria's northwestern Idlib province when the regime in December 2019 intensified its attacks to regain the last opposition bastion. Upon the Assad regime's attack, Turkey launched Operation Spring Shield. After the surge of violence decreased following a Turkey-Russia brokered cease-fire in the region, many people started to return to the province.
After launching three consecutive operations in northern Syria, Turkey rolled up its sleeves to reconstruct hospitals, schools, mosques and roads destroyed by the PKK's Syrian wing, the YPG. Within the scope of ameliorating the region's social infrastructure, people were given food and clothing by several NGOs, while roads and buildings were rebuilt.
Turkey still hosts more Syrian refugees in the world than any other country, according to figures. Turkey has made large investments toward social cohesion policies to enable Syrians to integrate into Turkish society smoothly.
In addition to 33,000 university students and more than half a million Syrian children are enrolled in schools across Turkey, according to UNICEF. Students are learning the Turkish language, as well as other disciplines.
Ankara so far has spent around $40 billion (TL 274 billion) on the Syrians in Turkey, while the European Union has provided only around 3 billion euros ($3.34 billion) of a promised 6 billion – a gap Turkey has long demanded be closed.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s counterterrorism operations across the border in northern Syria since 2016 have also allowed hundreds of thousands of Syrians in Turkey to resettle in their homeland.
Turkey often voiced that in order to establish long-lasting stability and normalization in Syria, the return of displaced Syrians to their hometowns is just as important as the fight against terrorism.
Though the migrant deal struck between Turkey and the EU in 2016 outlined a joint cooperation effort in northern Syria in order to better conditions for the people, Ankara has not received substantial support from Brussels in this regard.
“The EU and its member states will work with Turkey in any joint endeavor to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria, in particular in certain areas near the Turkish border which would allow for the local population and refugees to live in areas that will be safer,” read the March 18 statement.
Turkey, on the other hand, has been building briquette houses in Idlib province that provide warm shelter for displaced Syrians.
Launched on Jan. 13, 2020, in coordination with Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), the "We are together, We are siding with Idlib" aid campaign received major support from other Turkish aid organizations, including from the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay), the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), the Sadakataşı Association, the Türkiye Diyanet Foundation (TDV) and many more.
Struggling under difficult hygiene conditions in makeshift tent camps, the U.N. and other health officials also warned that the displaced people are at great risk in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most recently, the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines arrived Wednesday in the Idlib region through Turkey.
The official COVID-19 death toll in Syria is low compared to some other countries in the region but credible data collection across the conflict-ravaged country is almost impossible.
According to the U.N., 21,282 cases were confirmed as of March 26 – 11,576 cases in the Idlib area and 9,706 in northern Aleppo governorate.
Although Turkish institutions, the U.N. and international humanitarian organizations continue their efforts to provide humanitarian aid, there are still thousands more who need urgent assistance from the international community.
For years, the Bashar Assad regime has ignored the needs and safety of the Syrian people, only eyeing further gains of territory and crushing the opposition. With this aim, the regime has for years bombed vital facilities including schools, hospitals and residential areas, causing the displacement of almost half of the country’s population while adopting policies to make their lives more difficult.
Syria has been ravaged by a civil war since early 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protesters.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced, according to U.N. estimates.
Idlib falls within a de-escalation zone forged under the agreement between Turkey and Russia.
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