Sevil Erkuş – ANKARA
As Turkey’s military and allied Syrian rebel forces continue to push into the city center of Afrin in northwestern Syria, Turkey’s disaster agency is readying refugee camps and humanitarian aid for a possible refugee influx.
The Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey (AFAD) has drawn up contingency plans to cope with a possible movement of civilians in Afrin toward Idlib province, on Afrin’s south, and to Azaz, a town on Afrin’s east captured by Turkey during its Euphrates Shield operation, according to the head of the agency.
AFAD is currently focusing on two humanitarian operations in Afrin province: Refugee camps for the possible movement of the civilians of Afrin and the current humanitarian aid provided to civilians living in towns where the Turkish army carried out military operations.
“We have determined nine camp areas in the Euphrates Shield region and Idlib and made preparations. We informed the General Staff and other institutions that we can build a camp in Afrin too if required. But we still can’t predict how many people may flee Afrin city center, so the preparations will be done according to the ongoing ‘Operation Olive Branch,’” AFAD head Mehmet Güllüoğlu told Hürriyet Daily News in an interview on March 13.
“Some people fleeing from Afrin have gone to a corridor controlled by the Syrian regime. But the majority of them are being stopped by the PYD [Democratic Union Party],” he said.
No refugee influx from Afrin yet
It has been more than 30 days since “Operation Olive Branch” started and there still hasn’t been any mass migration from Afrin, he said. According to him, there are two reasons to this. “One is that the PYD is preventing civilians from fleeing Afrin. The second is the sensitivity of the Turkish army over civilians while they carry out the military operation,” he said.
As a result of the operation, Turkey is expecting a population movement between the Euphrates Shield region and Afrin, as locals are expected to arrive in their hometowns, he said.
AFAD also provides humanitarian aid for civilians living in the villages and towns of Afrin, from which the Turkish army “cleansed the PYD,” according to Güllüoğlu.
“While security in Afrin’s villages is being maintained, we provide aid such as food and medicine,” he noted.
Turkey said on March 13 its army and allied rebels have surrounded the city center of Afrin, home to some 350,000 people and controlled by the People’s Protection Units (YPG). Hundreds of civilians were seen fleeing Afrin on March 12, with cars piled high with personal belongings heading to regime-held areas further east.
AFAD operates refugee camp in Idlib
Idlib province is another region where AFAD is conducting humanitarian activities. They have a refugee camp established in Daraa in the province, which is a rebel stronghold with a population of 2.5 million. The agency provides support to other humanitarian organizations and their camps in Idlib, he said.
Güllüoğlu said the camp in Daraa was set up after the evacuation of rebels from Aleppo to Idlib over concerns that the regime and Russia might attack the rebel stronghold, but the camp was empty until January 2018 due to the Astana process.
But more than 500 families have been taking shelter in the camp since January after the regime and Russia intensified its military offensive on southern Idlib, he said, noting that more than 300,000 people were displaced in the province.
Idlib was declared one of the de-escalation zones in Syria after a deal for a ceasefire between rebels and the regime was brokered by Turkey, Russia and Iran.