Turkey faces risk of refugee influx as Syrian army advances in Idlib

Turkey is at risk of a new refugee influx from Syria, as the Syrian army’s advance in Idlib has forced half a million people to flee their homes, with most heading toward the border, Reuters reported on Thursday.

Turkey established 12 observation posts in the northwest Syrian province of Idlib as part of a Turkish-Russian deal agreed in September to establish a de-escalation zone in the last major rebel-held enclave in Syria. Idlib is home to 3 million people, according to UN estimates.

The Syrian military backed by Russia started an offensive in April against Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a jihadist group which has gained dominance in Idlib and launched attacks on neighbouring areas despite Moscow’s demands that Turkey clear it from the de-escalation zone.

The Syrian forces entered the town of Khan Sheikhoun this week, effectively cutting off Turkish troops at a military post near the town of Morek, 70 kilometres (45 miles) inside Syria, while a Turkish convoy sent to resupply the Morek post was halted on Monday by an air strike, Reuters said. 

Turkish Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın on Wednesday said Turkey’s observation posts in Syria would remain in place and Ankara would continue providing support to the posts. Talks between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the situation in Syria are expected in the coming days, Kalın said, adding that a trilateral summit between Turkey, Russia, and Iran over Syria will take place on Sept. 16.

The Turkish government has been trying in recent months to ease the pressure of increasing anti-refugee sentiments inside the country, which hosts 3.6 million registered Syrians.

“If there is this kind of movement to our borders we will take action and create shelters where we are going to accommodate displaced people outside our borders,” Reuters quoted Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu saying this week in relation to the situation in Idlib.