The repercussions of Turkey’s invasion of Syria in pursuit of Kurd militias will be felt far and wide. It will lead to a serious humanitarian crisis as many civilians flee to other countries in the Middle East, and even make attempts to reach Europe.
Recently it appeared as if the US had found a temporary solution out of the crisis following a meeting with its NATO ally Turkey. The meeting took place in the Turkish capital of Ankara, and was attended by President Erdogan and US Vice President Mike Pence who brought a special message from President Donald Trump.
According to the terms of the agreement reached during the meeting, Turkey is to suspend its operation to allow Kurdish forces who fought alongside US Special Forces, to withdraw from a roughly 20 mile deep Zone located in Syria. In return, the US will not impose any sanctions against Turkey, and if the ceasefire lasts longer, lift all the sanctions which had initially been imposed.
However, Turkish Foreign Minister Mr. Mevlut Cavusolgu has already contradicted this position by saying that the agreement reached was not a ceasefire. “This is not a ceasefire. A ceasefire can only be between two legitimate entities,” he said. “We will pause the operation for 120 hours for the terrorist to leave. We will stop the operation if our conditions are met.”
It seems Turkey, without minding the consequences, is using its offensive against the Kurds to twist the US’ arm into meeting its demands. Among its demands, is that the US should drop the charges levelled against the state-owned Halbank by the Department of Justice. The bank was charged in Manhattan Federal Court on October 15, for fraud, money laundering, and participation in a multi-dollar scheme to evade sanctions imposed on Iran by US. Although President Erdogan recently raised the matter with President Trump during a telephone conversation, the only response the US president could give was that he will have his people look into it.
Nevertheless, the lack of a clear commitment to maintaining the ceasefire could result in a serious security, political and humanitarian crisis which could affect the entire Middle East and reach as far as Europe. The border between Turkey and Syria has been a great concern to many humanitarian organisations. It is not only home to over 90,000 internal refugees who were displaced in Northern Syria during the civil war, but also to 1 million natives. Out of these, 100,000 civilians have already been displaced since the assault on Kurd militias began.
Key services to refugees and the vulnerable have also been disrupted as aid workers flee for their safety. According to the United Nations, “one major hospital has been abandoned, and critical water infrastructure abandoned.” On Tuesday, the Paris based Médecins Sans Frontiers announced the suspension of its activities and evacuation of all its staff from Syria citing extremely volatile situation as a result of Turkey’s invasion. Even though aid workers are protected by international humanitarian laws, their withdrawal is justifiable because of how they have been caught in the crossfire while carrying out their duties.
Their work has been commendable ever since the civil war erupted in Syria in 2011, creating one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world after around seven million people were displaced. But with Turkey’s invasion and the termination of most humanitarian assistance, the world is staring at an even worse situation.
When the Syrian war broke out eight years ago, most refugees fled to Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan. As far as things stand now, these countries are already overwhelmed and there’s no guarantee that they’ll accept more refugees as the war escalates. Last month Turkey’s president announced his intentions of returning around two million Syrian refugees to “safe zones” inside Syria. However, this was opposed by human rights advocates activists, who feared that “such zones would be inaccessible to humanitarian workers and could become a backdrop for human rights violations by Turkish armed forces.”
Many civilians will, therefore, try to flee to other countries in the Middle East and Europe. Some Syrians have already made the dangerous journey to Europe and are among thousands of migrants, camping at Calais in France. Some will eventually try to make a risky attempt of crossing the English Channel in small boats to reach Britain.
Apart from the humanitarian aspect, Turkey’s incursion presents a major challenge to the security of the Middle East and beyond. In reference to the US withdrawal and Turkey’s invasion of Syria, the French Prime Minister Édouard Phillippe recently said, “This is devastating for our security with the inevitable resurgence of Islamic State in north-eastern Syria and probably also northwest Iraq and so the destabilisation of a government that doesn’t need that.”
Of course, his statement is true considering that Many ISIS terrorists were detained in the areas occupied by Kurd militias.
The fear is that that the offensive will lead to many of them escaping from prison and regrouping again to launch attacks. The chaotic situation would then give them a good breeding environment to thrive and expand their networks. According to data from United Nations, more than half of Syrian refugees are under 18. Such a young population with no hopes of a good future are likely to recruited by ISIS. They would then disguise themselves as refugees to reach their targets to launch attacks. Many will head to countries such as Egypt which are people with European holidaymakers, while others will try to reach Europe.