U.S. congressmen urge Tillerson to raise Afrin humanitarian concerns on Turkey visit
A group of U.S. congressmen urged U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to raise concerns on his visit to Turkey on Thursday about the humanitarian situation in the Afrin region of northwest Syria where Turkish troops launched an offensive last month to drive out Syrian Kurdish forces.
Eight Democratic Party representatives wrote in a letter to Tillerson saying the area around Afrin had been largely free of the fighting that has plagued Syria since the civil war began in 2011, and as a result, the district had become home to thousands of Syrians from all religions and ethnicities fleeing the conflict elsewhere in the country.
“Today they under threat by the Turkish military offensive. Health authorities in Afrin have reported more than 140 people dead and 310 injured and international organisations have reported that civilians, including women and children, were among those killed and injured,” the letter said.
Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebel militiamen crossed into Syria on Jan. 20 in an operation to drive out Syrian Kurdish forces that Ankara sees as an arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has been fighting Turkey since 1984. The United States though has been aiding the Kurds in Syria in their fight against Islamic State and says Turkey’s incursion could weaken that campaign.
The letter said there had been disturbing reports of Turkish troops firing at Syrian refugees attempting to cross the border and of others forcibly returned to Syria without due process.
“We ask that you urge the Turkish government take steps to address these humanitarian concerns, follow international legal norms with respect to asylum seekers, and to commit to working towards a ceasefire,” the congressmen said in their letter to Tillerson.