U.S. Should Lay Groundwork For Safe Zone To Protect Syrians Fleeing Conflict, Expert Writes In Opinion Piece

Foreign Affairs: Washington Must Protect Syrians Fleeing Idlib
Robert S. Ford, senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and Kissinger senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs

“In Syria’s last opposition stronghold, the worst fears of millions of people are coming true. With the help of brutal Russian airstrikes, Syrian government forces have seized about a third of Idlib Province over the last two months, pushing over 900,000 of the region’s 3.5 million people out of their homes and north toward the nearby Turkish border, where another 800,000 displaced people already live in crude, overcrowded camps. The current wave of refugees fleeing Idlib, about 80 percent of whom are women and children, is now the largest exodus of Syria’s nine-year conflict. Aid agencies are overwhelmed, and food is scarce. With tent camps and even public buildings near the Turkish border already housing as many refugees as they can hold, 170,000 displaced people have been forced to sleep in unfinished buildings, in fields, or along roads in temperatures that frequently drop below freezing; babies and young children have died of exposure. … Washington needs to start laying the groundwork for a safe zone now. That means starting to talk with Moscow immediately about the unacceptability of driving refugees to Turkey, how to identify jihadis, how to determine the shape of a safe zone, and how to arrange de-escalation measure so that another Russian aircraft is not shot down inside Turkey. That also means rallying the support of NATO members to back Turkish plans and to organize a humanitarian response to support the safe zone. The next Syrian army offensive could begin within weeks. There is no time to waste” (2/24).