The latest offensive on Aleppo, Syria, could trigger another refugee wave into Europe. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that thousands already fled the city.
Around 35,000 people are reported to have been displaced from Hader and Zerbeh on the southwestern outskirts of Aleppo city, following government offensives over last few days. People urgently need food and basic household and shelter items. In addition, aid agencies are growing more and more concerned for families living outdoors as the weather is getting colder especially overnight.
Aleppo was once Syria’s “commercial hub and largest city,” but rebels opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad captured it during the civil war. Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies started an offensive in Aleppo in the first week of October, but ramped up their efforts over the weekend.
Millions of Syrians have fled the country since the civil war broke out over four years ago. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said, “There have been almost 429,000 asylum applications by Syrians in Europe since 2011.” At least 85% ended up in Germany, but the explosion has led to a European crisis.
“Syria may be beyond any solution,” stated Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Half the remaining population has escaped the war zones and they lack jobs or homes. Many of the towns have suffered a great deal of damage.”
Assad still controls “roughly a quarter of Syria and includes around 60 percent of its population” even though jihadist groups and rebels have captured a significant portion of the country. The president’s forces control Damascus, Homs, Hama, and “part of Aleppo.”
“Syria is the four cities: if you own them, you own Syria,” commented Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “I suspect that the government believes that if they can own the four cities and win over the urban population, the countryside will eventually have to fall in line.”
On Sunday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu warned the offensive could lead to more refugees. NATO-member Turkey is one of Assad’s fiercest enemies and only joined a coalition to stop the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) after the group bombed a border city.
“It is our priority that steps will be taken to prevent an increase of refugees from Aleppo due to the offensive [there] by Iranian militia, Isis and Russian attacks,” he said. “Aleppo is Syria’s second-biggest city. The [Russian] airstrikes in and around Aleppo as well as the Isis attack on the city worry us. They could cause another wave of refugees.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to “accelerate” Turkey’s membership into the EU “in exchange for Turkish help to secure European borders and to make sure fewer refugees reach Europe.”
Amnesty International condemned the agreement, but Davutoğlu reminded the rights group that Turkey already took in two million refugees and spent $7.5 billion.
Davutoğlu and Merkel agreed on a payment of $3.4 million, but on Monday night, the prime minister said Turkey’s “needs may increase.” He also admitted Turkey would not do much to stop the migrants from traveling further into Europe.
“We cannot accept an understanding like ‘Give us the money and they stay in Turkey,’” he said. “I told this to Merkel, too. No one can accept Turkey becoming a country like a concentration camp where all refugees live.”