Turkey’s week-old offensive against Kurdish-controlled areas of northeastern Syria has displaced more than 300,000 people, a war monitor said Thursday.
“More than 300,000 civilians have been displaced since the start of the offensive,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said.
He said the jump in the number of people forced to flee was due to a fresh wave of displacement over the past few days from areas around Tal Abyad and Kobane and in Hasakeh province.
Most displaced people tried to move in with relatives in safer areas, some were sleeping rough in orchards and others in some of the 40 schools that have been turned into emergency shelters, Abdel Rahman said.
Turkey and its Syrian proxies launched a broad assault on Kurdish-controlled areas on October 9, after U.S. troops pulled back from the border and started withdrawing from the northeast altogether.
Dozens of civilians – mostly on the Kurdish side – have been killed since the start of the offensive, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has refused to halt despite mounting international pressure.
The displacement of the Kurdish civilian population is believed to be a goal of Erdogan’s, who says he wants to resettle millions of mostly Arab Syrian refugees in border areas that are now predominantly Kurdish areas.
In March 2018, Turkish forces launched an operation in the Syrian border town of Afrin, driving out much of the Kurdish population and resettling Arab and Turkmen people in homes that formerly belonged to Kurds. Kurdish officials accused Turkey of trying to “ethnically cleanse” the region.
Turkey has long maintained that an autonomous Kurdish region on its southern border is a security threat. Ankara considers Syrian Kurdish forces to be an extension of the Turkish PKK, which has waged a Kurdish separatist campaign within Turkey for decades.
Syrian Kurdish officials maintain that they represent no threat to Turkey.
After the onset of the Turkish offensive, NGOs such as Save the Children warned of an “impending humanitarian disaster.”
On Wednesday, Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned Europe must be ready for the possibility of a new refugee influx, as the unfolding Turkish offensive in Syria could see more people flee the region.
Turkey houses some 3.6 million Syrian refugees, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already threatened to “open the gates” to allow more to leave for Western countries if his plans to resettle them in Kurdish territory in northern Syria fail.