Mar 3, 2020 - World

Syria's migrant crisis collides with geopolitics

Heading toward Greece, in Edirne, Turkey. Photo: Osman Orsal/Getty Images

There is war on Turkey’s border with Syria and chaos on its borders with Europe.

Driving the news: Turkey launched an offensive against Syrian government troops after at least 36 of its soldiers were killed in an airstrike last Thursday. It shot down two Syrian aircraft and claims to have killed hundreds of Syrian forces.

Simultaneously, Turkey announced that it was opening its borders to allow Syrian refugees to cross into Europe. Turkey hosts 3.7 million Syrians but — with up to a million people displaced by recent fighting in Idlib expected to attempt to cross into Turkey —says the situation is no longer sustainable.

On the scene: “Thousands of migrants have gathered near Greece's Kastanies border crossing, some getting there by taking free rides on buses organized by the Turkish government. Turkey’s state-owned Arabic-language broadcasting channel ... provided maps for migrants showing various routes to reach the border,” per Al-Monitor.

The EU insists its gates remain closed.

  • “We have to stand by Greece and fight together Erdogan’s blackmail,” said Guy Verhofstadt, a senior EU politician.
  • Turkish media released a disturbing video of members of the Greek coast guard apparently attempting to turn back or sink a boat filled with migrants.
  • A young Syrian boy died today when his boat capsized off of Lesbos.

In Syria, meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has focused his ire on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and not Syria’s ally, Vladimir Putin.

  • Erdoğan plans to meet with Putin on Thursday in Moscow to attempt to negotiate the endgame in Idlib.
  • Putin has aided Assad in retaking nearly all of Syria, but he has also been working for years to pull Turkey further from Washington’s orbit. He’ll have to weigh those competing priorities.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in Idlib continues.

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Why it matters: A brutal offensive by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his Russian patrons has forced more than 1 million civilians to flee toward the Turkish border, infuriating Erdogan and bringing Turkey to the brink of direct military conflict with Russia. The ceasefire, which is set to go into effect at midnight, is aimed at cooling geopolitical tensions and halting what is already a massive humanitarian crisis.

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