The Syrian Crisis has been globalized by the millions of Syrians who were forced to flee the country as the conflict escalated. Many fled to Europe, and many fled to and remained in states that neighbor Syria. Turkey has become the host of over three million refugees, an issue that is pulled to the forefront of Turkish politics when elections are near.
President Erdogan of Turkey has threatened to address the issue through so-called “safe zones” in Syria. These are combat and occupation zones run by Syrian religious extremist rebels backed by Turkey, not “safe zones.” Three military operations have already been conducted by Turkish forces, leading to the occupation of Afrin, Tal Abyad, Ras al-Ayn, Jarablus, and other parts of Northern Syria. Hundreds of thousands of people who lived in these regions were forced to leave as the Turkish-backed forces assaulted them, and they have been replaced by Syrians who were displaced in previous battles between the regime and rebel forces. Oftentimes, Kurdish, Yazidi, and other minority Syrians have seen their homes and properties occupied by Syrians displaced from other parts of the country that Turkey has “returned” to Syria.
According to the Turkish government, hundreds of thousands of Syrians from regions such as Idlib and Ghouta have returned to Syria to the regions that Turkish-backed forces now occupy. President Erdogan recently announced his intention to return one million more. This is an issue on several fronts. Not only does this intentional demographic change amount to the ethnic cleansing of regions such as Afrin, but the Turkish-occupied regions that Syrian refugees are being returned to are not safe at all.
The Turkish-occupied regions are beset by infighting between the various militias Turkey has supported as part of the so-called “Syrian National Army”. Militias with extremist ideologies, such as Ahrar al-Sharqiya and Jaysh al-Islam fight amongst each other over territory where they conduct illegal activities in an effort to raise money. Extortion, kidnapping, and property theft are all done with little to no accountability. Rule of law does not exist in the Turkish-occupied regions.
President Erdogan’s solutions are not based in reality and will not solve the refugee crisis that the Syrian Conflict has created. Syria was and remains a diverse society. People must be allowed to return to their own homes, not homes owned by other Syrians who are themselves internally or externally displaced. Demographic change that amounts to ethnic cleansing will only exacerbate the sectarian nature of the conflict and lead to further issues. The true solution to the refugee crisis that has affected dozens of countries and millions of Syrians is working towards a political solution that creates the necessary security and economic conditions in Syria that are needed for Syrians to be able to build decent lives for themselves and their families.