Aid agencies, military leaders and senior international officials including NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker have warned that hundreds of thousands of people are in immediate danger from Turkey’s offensive targeting Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
Syria is already hosting one of the world’s most complex humanitarian crises, with millions of people displaced both within and outside its borders, and the Turkish offensive threatens to add a frightening new dimension. Aid agencies said many of those in the area where the controversial offensive is focused have already survived the brutality of the Islamic State era. Many have been displaced multiple times during Syria’s long war.
The UK-based agency Save the Children states: “Currently, there are 1.65 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in this area, including more than 650,000 displaced by war. All essential services including food, water, shelter, health, education and protection must be consistently provided to all civilians, or we could see another humanitarian disaster unfold before our eyes. In addition to the Syrian civilians in the north-east, there are thousands of women and children living in camps across the area … who rely completely and exclusively on humanitarian aid. Any interruption to camp services which are already overstretched would put their lives at risk.
“Children in Syria who have fled ISIS-held areas are innocent and swept up in horrific events far beyond their control. Their short lives have been full of violence and fear. All children deserve [the] chance to recover.”
In sharp-edged remarks aimed at Turkey, European commission president Juncker pointed out that the EU is contributing €6bn to Turkey to help support the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in the country, adding that Europe would not contribute to the creation of a “safe zone” in northern Syria. While acknowledging that Turkey has security concerns on its border with Syria, Juncker said: “If the Turkish plan involves the creation of a so-called safe zone, don’t expect the European Union to pay for any of it.”