The military offensive by Turkey into northern Syria is a shocking deterioration in the long running conflict and puts the lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrians at risk.
Turkey must ensure the protection of civilians and must be held accountable for the deaths caused by this offensive.
There are an estimated 1.7m people living in the region. Since the conflict began eight years ago, people living in this region have experienced significant displacement and intense conflict as various forces fought for control. This military offensive will further destabilise the region and likely result in significant internal displacement.
The military offensive cannot be a solution to the Syrian refugee crisis. Turkey’s stated objective of creating a ‘safe’ zone to where refugees could return runs completely contrary to the principle of safe and voluntary return for refugees.
Turkey has hosted 3.7m Syrian refugees since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict, which has created challenges for host communities and the country. However, creating a ‘safe’ zone by military means is unrealistic. Forcibly moving 3.7m refugees is impossible and undermines the rights of these refugees.
The international community, including Ireland, has failed to share the burden of hosting refugees forced from their homes by the Syrian conflict.
The UNHCR reports that there are 6.7m Syrians living outside Syria, of which 5.6m are hosted in neighbouring countries. The international community has failed to find more sustainable solutions for this population of refugees.
Since the beginning of the conflict, thousands of Syrians infants have become teenagers, teenagers have become young adults, all in makeshift accommodations, in a foreign country, with an uncertain future.
The international community must redouble its effort to achieve a peaceful solution. The recently announced formation of a Constitutional Committee, sponsored by the UN, is hopefully a very positive development. The Committee should be given space to work, and the international community must use its leverage to ensure its success.
Eight years of conflict has demonstrated that there is no military solution to the conflict. The international community must concentrate efforts on finding a peaceful solution, one which is focused on Syrians and not on geopolitical positioning, and bring an end the humanitarian crisis which has caused 6.7m Syrians to be refugees and a further 6.2m to be displaced in their own country.
Niall O’Keeffe is Trócaire’s Head of Region for Asia and the Middle East.