Displacement of hundreds of thousands from Idlib to Turkey could create humanitarian catastrophe

The remarkable military progress of the Syrian Arab Army in Idlib has led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians, most of which are headed towards the Turkish border. The scale of the displacement could lead to the emergence of a humanitarian crisis in Turkey.

IDLIB – U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey said on Thursday that the attack by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) on areas under the control of the armed opposition in the northwest of the country during the past few days has pushed approximately 700,000 people to flee to the Turkish borders, increasing the risk of an international crisis.

The SAA, with the support of its local allies and the Russian Air Force, made rapid advances in Idlib last week, sparking severe turmoil in a region where millions of people have sought refuge since the outbreak of Syria’s nearly nine-year-long civil war. Jeffrey said in a press conference that Syrian and Russian warplanes have carried out 200 air strikes in the Idlib area, “especially against civilians” during the past three days, and that many Turkish observation points “became isolated” as a result of the SAA’s advance.

Turkey, already hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees, has concerns that millions more will flow into its territory across the borders soon. According to Human Rights Watch, Turkey stopped registering new Syrian refugees in late 2017, depriving the unregistered of legal protection and anything more than basic services.

Without proper registration, Syrians in Turkey have reported being denied access to hospitals and schools and risk being deported back to Syria by Turkish police. In interviews, Syrians in Turkey told Human Rights Watch that, “Turkish police deported them in groups of up to 20 people” and that “they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and severely restricted their movement to avoid the police.”

The current influx of civilians moving towards the Turkish border risks making worse an already precarious situation.

In April 2019, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Turkish border guards had killed an estimated 422 civilians, including 76 children since the beginning of the Syrian civil war. Almost a year later, that number is likely even higher. And with hundreds of thousands more heading towards the Turkish border, the figure will likely rise further.

On Tuesday, the SAA took control of the second largest city in Idlib Province, Maarat al-Numan, an important turning point for the Syrian Government’s goal to regain control of all of the country’s territory.