Syrian peace talks fail amidst refugee crisis

Fighting in northern Syria has nearly doubled following the collapse of last week’s peace talks, spurring a massive increase in refugees trying to enter Turkey.

Turkish officials say they are prepared to help the refugees, but the border will remain closed.

The fighting is a result of a redoubled Syrian government offensive against rebel held cities in the north. The fighting comes after the tragic failure of last week’s talks, where the main rebel force refused to meet with government officials until their demands for humanitarian aid were met.

The Syrian government, with the aid of Russian airstrikes, has captured a significant amount of territory near the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

Syleyman Tapsiz, the governor of the Turkish province boarding northern Syria, said Saturday that Turkey was willing to help refugees inside Syria.

“Our doors are not closed, but at the moment there is no need to host such people inside our borders,” he said.

Turkey has been providing aid in the form of food, shelter and blankets, to the thousands of Syrians stranded on their border. They have nonetheless refused to open the border.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn has been urging Turkey to cease the blockade, and allow refugees through the country.

“The Geneva convention is still valid, which states that you have to take in refugees,” said Mr. Hahn in a discussion among EU foreign ministers in Amsterdam.

Damascus, capital of Syria / Reuters

Damascus, capital of Syria / Reuters

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders put forward the same sentiment. “I look at these images of people standing at the Turkish border and I just wanted to underline the message that people who are in humanitarian need should be allowed in,” he said.

Turkey has accepted over two million Syrians since the war began five years ago, and it remains to be seen whether they are ready to accept another huge wave.

While human rights groups call on Turkey to open the border, the EU is trying to reduce the flow of refugees into Europe after a large public outcry. There are diplomatic pressures on Turkey from many sides, so for now they act with caution.

Turkey has been using the new influx of refugees against Russia, whom they blame as the cause. Russian airstrikes in northern Syria have been key to the government’s retaking of the region, which has prompted thousands to flee. Russia has shown no sign of pulling back, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying air strikes will not cease “until we really defeat terrorist organizations like al-Nusra Front.”

Last November, an EU deal offered Turkey three billion Euros in exchange for taking care of the Syrian refugees on their own soil. This new influx has seen over 60 donor countries again pledging a combined billions of dollars to Turkey in order to ease the plight of Syrian refugees.

The Syrian conflict has seen over 4.6 million people displaced from their home country, and an additional 13.5 million still within the country who require humanitarian aid and relief.

Luiz Brasil 

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