As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Donald Trump prepare to meet in Washington, D.C. next week – their first in-person meeting since President Trump took office in January – Refugees International (RI) calls on both leaders to place humanitarian concerns at the forefront of their discussion of the Syrian conflict and their shared desire to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS).
The protection of Syrian civilians and humanitarian access to vulnerable populations within Syria remain challenges in this conflict, becoming more complex as the war wears on. With fewer and fewer Syrians able to escape the country and with humanitarian needs still increasing inside Syria’s borders, the humanitarian crisis must be a central focus of any discussions aimed at resolving the conflict.
The most recent discussions about Syrian civilian protection have focused on creating de-escalation zones in several areas of the country. The details of how these zones would be administered are not yet clear, but the plan underway – backed by Russia, Turkey and Iran – has Russia’s military police ensuring the security of the zones. After six years of repeated failed attempts to lessen hostilities, it seems unlikely that this latest initiative will end any differently, and RI has serious concerns about meaningful protection of civilians by parties to the conflict.
Any safe areas in Syria must be properly protected from military activity, must allow unrestricted humanitarian access to the population by aid providers, and must not become a justification for refusing Syrians the ability to appeal for protection in other countries. Further, de-escalation zones can under no circumstances be used by asylum countries to promote, let alone push for the return of refugees.
We urge both leaders to make protection of and assistance to civilians in Syria their highest priority as they address the next steps they will take with regard to the conflict.