New wave of displaced Syrians urges Turkey to open border

Tens of thousands of Syrians driven from their homes by the Syrian government offensive in northwest Idlib province are increasingly frustrated that Turkey has not allowed them to cross the border to safety, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

More than 200,000 people have been displaced by the renewed violence in Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in Syria, according to the Guardian.

The Turkish border offers some protection for the thousands camped in Atmeh, across from Reyhanlı in Turkey’s Hatay province, because airstrikes rarely hit so close to Turkey, Reuters said. Yet it remains closed, blocking their chance of fleeing and joining the 3.6 million Syrian refugees already in Turkey.

“Turkey is our only option today,” 51-year-old Abu Abdallah from Qalaat al-Madiq, which was captured by Syrian forces early this month, told Reuters. “We can no longer put up with living under bombardment or in the open under the trees.”

According to a deal Ankara and Moscow struck last September, Turkey agreed to create a demilitarised zone and remove extremist fighters such as those of al-Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) to prevent attacks on Syrian government forces and infrastructure.

But HTS gained control of most of the province in recent months and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces launched an offensive on Idlib early this month, supported by Russian airstrikes.

Much of the bombardment has hit a buffer zone set up by Russia and Turkey to protect Idlib’s 3 million residents. Syrian government shells have even hit a Turkish military observation post, one of 12 set up near the Idlib borders by Turkey, according to Reuters.

“We didn’t ask to go into Turkey before,” 32-year-old Khsara Ahmed al-Hussein told Reuters. “But when you set up a de-escalation zone and ... you guarantee that I won’t get struck, but then even the Turkish observation point is struck by the regime, then what’s the point of protection if you can’t even protect yourself?”

Um Bassan hoped to join her children who have been in Turkey for over a year, after she and their father spent everything they had to smuggle them out of Syria, according to Reuters.

“I want this torture to end and to see my children,” she said. “No one prefers another country over their own, but I want release from the bombardment and to see my children there.”