Sep 07 2018

Turkey should seek outside help for refugee influx from Idlib - academic

Turkey should seek outside help, rather than trying to handle on its own a possible influx of Syrian refugees due to Syrian government’s expected military offensive in the northwestern city of Idlib, Kemal Kirişci,  director of the Brookings Institute Center on the United States and Europe's Turkey Project, wrote on Thursday.

Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in Syria, borders Turkey and hosts an estimated 3 million Syrians currently trapped in the province, around a third of whom are thought to be refugees displaced from other parts of the country.

The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, warned on Tuesday that a possible military offensive of the Syrian government, backed by Iran and Russia, in Idlib could lead to 800,000 more refugees fleeing the country into Turkey, which already houses more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees. 

“Opinion polls in Turkey show growing public demands for Syrian refugees to go home, which candidates promised during the recent presidential and parliamentary campaigns in June,” Kirişçi said. Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is also aware of his base expressing similar sentiments and has presented Turkey’s military offensives inside Syria as a way to ensure a safe return of Syrian refugees, Kirişçi added. 

If Mistura’s predictions are correct, such high numbers can overwhelm the resources of Turkish agencies dealing with refugees, Kirişçi warned. “In that case, it will be critical for Erdoğan to seek outside help, rather than repeat the mistake he made in October 2011, when he insisted that Turkey would handle the initial influx of Syrian refugees on its own,” he said. 

Instead, the Turkish government should recognise the “vast experience that U.N. agencies and international nongovernmental organisations have in managing such emergency situations,” Kirişçi advised. 

While keeping its borders open, according to Kirişçi, Turkey should complement its efforts for humanitarian aid with preparedness for extensive counterterrorism cooperation with the international community, as Idlib is known to be providing shelter to foreign jihadist fighters from Turkey, Europe, Central Asia, China, Russia, and elsewhere.

Turkey should also maintain its policy aiming the safe return of Syrian refugees, but rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, should benefit from the know-how of the international community, especially UNHCR and other U.N. agencies, Kirişçi stressed.