Turkey’s military offensive on northeastern Syria has displaced more than 60,000 people in less than a day, a war monitor said Thursday.
“Since Wednesday, more than 60,000 people fled border areas,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that most of the displaced traveled east towards the city of Hasakeh.
Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based monitor, said the biggest displacement was from the border areas of Ras al-Ain, Tal Abyad, and Derbasiyeh.
The Turkish military and Syrian proxies launched an offensive against Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria on Wednesday, despite widespread international warnings and condemnations. The move came after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered American forces near the border area to be pulled back.
Ankara has said it aims to create a buffer about 30 kilometers deep in Syrian territory in which to send back some of the 3.6 million Syrians who found refuge on Turkish soil since the start of the war in Syria in 2011. The plan has led some to accuse President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of trying to “ethnically cleanse” the area of Kurds.
Humanitarian organizations warned that this latest episode in the deadly eight-year-old conflict could once again have disastrous consequences on civilian populations.
“An estimated 450,000 people live within five kilometers of the Syria-Turkey border and are at risk if all sides do not exercise maximum restraint and prioritize the protection of civilians,” a joint statement said.
The text signed by 14 humanitarian organizations warned that large numbers of civilians could soon be cut off from the vital aid they had been receiving.
“The life-saving humanitarian response will be threatened if instability forces aid agencies to suspend or relocate their programming and staff, as is already happening,” said the statement.
Syrian Arab and Kurdish civilians flee amid Turkish bombardment on Syria's northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in the Hasakeh province along the Turkish border. #AFP
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— AFP Photo (@AFPphoto) October 10, 2019
Among the organizations that signed the appeal were several of the largest aid providers in the area, including the Norwegian Refugee Council and Mercy Corps.
In a separate statement, the Save The Children charity warned of “an impending humanitarian disaster.”
It emphasized the risks facing the children among the latest wave of displacement, which includes thousands of people who had already been uprooted multiple times since the start of the war.
“With winter around the corner, they will face additional challenges as they search for shelter,” Save The Children said.
Turkish forces are expected to move deeper into Syria, and the International Rescue Committee warned Wednesday that the operation could displace up to 300,000 people.
Crack Down on Dissent
The Turkish operation has drawn outrage from leaders around the world, including members of Trump’s own party in the U.S.
Because local Kurdish forces who are now resisting the offensive were a key partner in the U.S. coalition’s fight against Islamic State, many in the U.S. believe Trump is “abandoning” them. Turkey claims the Kurdish groups are a security threat.
Erdogan warned the E.U. on Thursday that Ankara would allow millions of refugees to head to Europe if the bloc criticized Turkey’s military offensive in Syria.
“Hey E.U., wake up. I say it again: if you try to frame our operation there as an invasion, our task is simple: we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you,” Erdogan said in a speech to his party.
— Coordination & Military Ops Center – SDF (@cmoc_sdf) October 9, 2019
Under a 2016 agreement with the EU, Turkey agreed to prevent refugees from leaving towards Europe in exchange for six billion euros and visa-free travel for its citizens, but has frequently criticized the lack of assistance from Brussels.
Within Turkey, police have arrested more than 20 people on charges of “terrorist propaganda” over their criticism of a military offensive launched against Kurdish forces in Syria.
The head of opposition news site Birgun, Hakan Demir, was detained on Thursday for “inciting the people to hatred and enmity” after it reported there had been civilian casualties in the offensive. Demir was later released but had his passport confiscated.
Police arrested 21 people in the Kurdish-majority city of Mardin in southeastern Turkey for “terrorist propaganda”, according to state news agency Anadolu.
They had already announced that 78 cases had been opened against individuals nationwide.