Refugees International is deeply concerned by indications that the Assad regime and its international partners are preparing to launch a major military operation to capture Idlib province. Idlib is the largest remaining area not under government control in Syria. It is also home to up to three million civilians – almost half of whom have sought refuge in Idlib or were evacuated there to escape advances by Syrian government forces elsewhere in the country. An offensive in Idlib would likely result in a humanitarian catastrophe.
U.S. President Donald Trump has rightly warned against a reckless escalation of the conflict in Syria and made clear that the United States would not tolerate another use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. However, the administration must do more to bring diplomatic pressure to bear on Russia – Assad’s main international patron – to stop the offensive.
Russia is scheduled to hold talks later this week with Turkey and Iran – the other main international players in Idlib. These countries must find a peaceful resolution and insist that Syria abide by it. If Damascus does launch a military offensive against Idlib, civilians will pay the price on a massive scale. United Nations officials warn that up to 800,000 people could be displaced by the offensive.
These civilians will have nowhere to go. Turkey closed its border to Syrian refugees years ago. Ankara is now reportedly considering options to contain those fleeing further violence inside Syria rather than granting them refuge. Some diplomates are also discussing the creation of “safe spaces” for civilians in Idlib itself. However, Idlib province is already an Astana-agreed de-escalation zone, and that designation has not stopped the regime from shelling its population.
Refugees International therefore calls on Turkey to urgently open its border for Syrians seeking protection – and on the international community to provide all necessary support to it in doing so – to help avoid the mass slaughter of civilians. We also call on the governments of Syria and Russia to refrain from launching a large-scale military offensive in Idlib.