Turkey assault could displace 400,000 in Syria, UN warns

Turkey assault could displace 400,000 in Syria, UN warns
The UN warned some 400,000 people will have to flee the controversial Turkish offensive in Syria.
4 min read
13 October, 2019
Hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee the offensive [Getty]
Turkey's deadly assault on Kurdish positions in northeastern Syria has forced 130,000 people to flee their homes, the UN said Sunday, adding it was preparing for that figure to more than triple.

"We have moved into a planning scenario where up to 400,000 people could be displaced within and across the affected areas," Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA told AFP in an email, adding that these people would be "in need of assistance and protection."

The UN had said on Friday that some 100,000 people had been forced to flee their homes since the beginning of Turkey's military incursion on Wednesday, after US President Donald Trump ordered American troops to pull back from the border.

But by Sunday it warned of further displacements from rural areas around Tell Abiad and Ras al-Ain with latest estimates "surpassing 130,000 people".

"Exact numbers cannot yet be ascertained," the agency said in an updated assessment document. 


Most of the displaced had reached relatives or host communities, but growing numbers were arriving at collective shelters, including in schools.

The UN warned of the impact of any further escalation of Turkey's  offensive or of sudden shifts in control over territory.

"Concerns remain grave around the risks facing thousands of vulnerable displaced persons, including women and children in various (displacement) camps," it said, pointing to Al-Hol, a camp holding relatives of IS suspects that lies outside the area targeted by Turkey.

The UN said that there were many other humanitarian consequences to the military assault, which is being conducted on multiple fronts along the border.

It also voiced concern for the safety of the staff of the 113 UN and other international aid organisations operating in the area, and had cut international staff numbers to 200 from normal levels of 384.

The warning came after France joined Germany on Saturday in suspending arms exports to Turkey over its offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria.

In a joint statement from the defence and foreign ministries, France said it had suspended all planned exports of "war materials" to Turkey that could be used in their offensive into Syria.

The Paris statement came hours after Germany, one of Turkey's main arms suppliers, also said it had suspended exports.

A number of countries have condemned the controversial offensive, and Finland, Norway and The Netherlands have already announced that they are  stopping arms exports to the country.

A European Union's foreign affairs committee meeting on Monday will decide on a coordinated European approach to the issue, the French statement said.

It noted France's "firm condemnation of the unilateral offensive engaged by Turkey in the northeast of Syria".

Both the French and German statements have also warned that the offensive could have serious humanitarian consequences.

Read more: Islamic State group strikes Kurds amid intense Turkish offensive in Syria

Responding to Germany's announcement to suspend arms, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Germany's Deutsche Welle radio that it was "a question of national security, a question of survival".

Any arms embargo would only strengthen their resolve, he added.

"Even if our allies support the terrorist organisation, even if we are alone, even if an embargo is imposed, whatever they do, our struggle is directed against the terrorist organisation," he said, referring to the Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG).

The YPG has been the backbone of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces who were the main partner on the ground in the US-led campaign against the Islamic State group.

Ankara considers the YPG a "terrorist" offshoot of Kurdish rebels who have been fighting an insurgency against the Turkish state for three decades.

On Friday, the Pentagon blasted Turkey for its three-day old assault, warning of "serious consequences" for its actions. The Trump administration also threatened sanctions on key Turkish officials over the matter.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, has insisted the operation won't stop until the Syrian Kurdish forces withdraw below a 32 kilometre (20 miles) deep line from the border.

On Saturday, Arab leaders slammed the offensive as an "invasion of an Arab state’s land and an aggression on its sovereignty," according to Reuters.

The comments were made by the Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Abould Gheit at an emergency meeting of the 22-member body on Saturday to discuss Ankara's cross-border assault, dubbed "Operation Spring of Peace”.

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