Half a million displaced Syrians in areas bordering Turkey – Red Crescent head

Turkey is preparing for a large influx of asylum seekers prompted by the Syrian government’s onslaught on Idlib, the last opposition-held province in the country, German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported on Tuesday.

Some 500,000 civilians have fled to areas close to the border with Turkey as a result of the Syrian government’s attacks on populated areas, Kerem Kınık, the head of Turkish humanitarian organisation the Red Crescent, told Deutsche Welle Turkish.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces began bombarding Idlib with Russian support in April, marking the breakdown of an initiative agreed by Turkey and Russia in September last year. Russia and Syria say Turkey has failed to honour its pledge to remove extremist opposition groups from the de-escalation zone set out in the agreement.

The Syrian government stepped up the offensive with ground forces advancing over the summer, displacing large numbers of people towards the border, Kınık said.

“It is very clear that the number will not be limited to 500,000 people. There are many more defenceless civilians in Idlib. A new wave of migration will affect Europe as it does Turkey,” he said.

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said a new wave of migration could leave him with no option but to “open the gates” and allow the flow to Europe.

Turkey signed a deal with the European Union to limit the flow of migrants to Europe after a large influx in 2016.

But Turkey’s vice president, Fuat Oktay, said on Sept. 6 that Turkey would be unable to bear another large-scale wave of migration from Idlib. Turkey currently hosts more than 3.5 million registered refugees from Syria, and their presence during an economic recession has caused discontent among cash-strapped Turkish citizens.

Kınık said the Red Crescent had been providing humanitarian aid to newly arriving Syrians around existing camps on the border. However, much greater international support will be required if the flow of migrants picks up, he said.

Turkey’s Interior Ministry is also taking measures to address the risk that extremist fighters could enter Turkey if large numbers of Syrians from Idlib begin crossing the border, Deutsche Welle said.

The ministry is preparing a detailed plan to “isolate jihadists and protect civilians”, it said.

With the large movement of migrants and the threat posed by foreign fighters also likely to impact Europe, Turkey is likely to hold a summit on Idlib with Assad’s allies Russia and Iran and then with France and Germany, Syria analyst Oytun Orhan of the Ankara-based Centre for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies said.