Turkish army launches a military operation into northern Syria on the Turkey-Syria border on October 9, 2019 | Photo: Imago Images/Xinhua
Turkish army launches a military operation into northern Syria on the Turkey-Syria border on October 9, 2019 | Photo: Imago Images/Xinhua

Turkey has begun an assault on US-backed Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria to push the Kurdish militia away from the border and eventually allow the repatriation of up to 3 million Syrian refugees in a 'safe zone'. InfoMigrants answers important questions about Turkish President Erdogan's plans and the possible consequences for the region.

Turkey this week launched a long-threatened military operation in northeastern Syria targeting a US-backed, Kurdish-led militia alliance. The offensive comes after the United States pulled back from the border and abandoned its Syrian Kurdish partners.

Aside from "eliminating a terrorist corridor" along the border and bringing "peace and tranquility" to the region, the goal of the offensive is to create a 32-kilometer-deep, 480-kilometer-long "safe zone" inside Syria along the border. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan then wants to resettle at least 1 million of its 3.6 million Syrian refugees who come from other parts of Syria into mostly Kurdish-populated areas.

InfoMigrants answers important questions about the complex situation as well as Erdogan's proposed "safe zone" and what it means for Syrian refugees in Turkey.

What's the situation for Syrian refugees in Turkey?

  • Over the past several months, the Turkish government has been cracking down on Syrian refugees.
  • The number of deportations from Turkey has gone up dramatically: Many Syrian refugees were sent to hotly contested areas such as Idlib.
  • Turkish people's attitude towards Syrians has become increasingly harsh amid the worsening economic crisis in their country.
  • Many Syrian refugees are now trying to leave Turkey.

What's the current situation in northern Syria?

  • The areas along the Turkish border in Syria are being controlled by the Kurdish People's Defense Units (YPG) militia, the main component of the Kurdish-led militia alliance Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
  • Turkey considers YPG a threat as it believes it to be linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
  • PKK has fought a four-decade insurgency for Kurdish rights against the Turkish state, and Turkey has already launched two offensives against the militia in northern Syria.
  • The US backed the Kurdish fighters, but recently withdrew its troops.
  • In August and September, fighting around Idlib - the last rebel stronghold and an area that borders Turkey - escalated.
  • Around 3 million internally displaced people (IDPs) reportedly live in northern Syria.
  • Some fear the IDPs will try to flee to Turkey if the situation in northern Syria continues to deteriorate.

Map of border region between Syria and Turkey

Where did the idea for a 'safe zone' originate?

  • Turkey has demanded a "safe zone" in northern Syria for a long time.
  • First, the goal was to protect Syrian rebels from ruler Baschar al-Assad. Later the goal was to push back YPG.
  • US President Trump picked up the idea and reached an agreement with Turkey on a joint security mechanism to establish the zone.
  • Despite the agreement, both countries remained at odds over the extent and long-term nature of the zone.
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to "open the gates" to Europe unless the EU provides more help, in particular for his "safe zone" plan.

What would the zone look like?

  • The proposed zone would be along the Turkish border in the Kurdish regions in northern Syria.
  • The zone would be 30 kilometers wide and about 480 kilometers long, running along the Turkish border inside Syria.
  • It would span across most of Syria's multi-ethnic northern border areas and rival administrations created by nearly nine years of civil war.
  • There are many open questions, and some experts believe the plan is unrealistic.

Who is to be resettled to the 'safe zone'?

  • Erdogan wants to resettle at least 1 million of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey to the zone.
  • As a first step, 140 villages and towns would be built for the 1 million people.
  • According to Erdogan, a total of 2 to 3 million refugees could eventually return to the area if the "safe zone" were extended up to Raka and Deir Essor, two major cities that are predominantly Arabic.
  • Turkish officials say returns would be voluntary, insisting the operation would provide the stability needed for resettlement.

Map showing border region between Turkey and Syria  Credit DW

What would be the consequences for the region?

  • The settlement of one million mostly Arabic refugees in the predominantly Kurdish region would fundamentally change its ethnic make-up, according to geographer Fabrice Balanche of the University of Lyon.
  • This could lead to considerable conflicts with the Kurdish population.

How do Syrian refugees in Turkey feel about the 'safe zone'?

  • Many Syrian refugees are expected to be hesitant about resettling in the buffer zone.
  • Many of the Syrians come from other parts of Syria and would not want to settle on other people's land, says Hasan Ünal, a political expert at Istanbul's Maltepe University.
  • Under international law, the Syrian refugees could not be forced to resettle.
  • The US has also made it clear it does not support a forced resettlement.

With material from AFP, AP 


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