Up to two million refugees may flee to Turkey if the fighting rages in northwestern Syria as aid funds run seriously low, the United Nations (UN) warned yesterday.
The Russian-backed Syrian army has been carrying out air and ground assaults on the opposition’s last stronghold, forcing tens of thousands to leave their homes.
“Our fear is if this continues, and if the numbers continue soaring, and if the conflict intensifies, that we could see really hundreds of thousands, a million, two, heading toward the borders with Turkey,” Reuters quoted the UN’s regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, Panos Moumtzis, as saying.
Moumtzis added that the situation was deteriorating and that a deal between Russia and Turkey to deescalate the fighting there was “no longer in place.” “We see an offensive that is really targeting – or with an impact on – hospitals and schools in civilian areas, in areas where there are the population and urban areas – which really should not be happening according to the international humanitarian law,” he said.
Aid organizations, Moumtzis noted, had been encouraged to share their locations with the warring parties to avoid being hit. “But after a number of repeated air strikes on hospitals, many aid workers distrusted such requests.”
“A few months ago, we asked to make sure that this nightmare scenario will not take place. Actually, it’s unfolding in front of our own eyes as we speak,” He continued.
The UN official pointed out that his organisation had requested $3.3 billion to cover humanitarian work in Syria this year, explaining that despite “generous pledges,” it had only received $500 million so far.
Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011 when President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests. The war has killed more than 560,000 people, the vast majority by regime-allied forces.
The Bashar Al-Assad-led government has used chemical weapons against civilians on scores of occasions, with tens of thousands in prison facing torture and execution. Despite the regime calling for refugees to return to the country, over one million people are still listed as wanted on government databases, with those Syrians who supported the opposition fearing state reprisals.