Establishing safe havens in Syrian territory is part of Turkey's plan to respond to a potential influx of refugees from the unrest-hit country, diplomatic sources say. Foreign Minister Davutoğlu is meanwhile urging the international community against a possible military intervention against the al-Assad regime. Describing Syria as the 'summary' of the Middle East, he has also urged the country's leader 'not to miss the chance to fix problems in Syria'.
Turkey is considering establishing safe havens on the Syrian side of the border to cope with a potential massive influx of refugees from the unrest-hit neighboring country, the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review has learned.
This “Plan B,” formulated in light of past experiences with fleeing Iraqis in the 1990s, was discussed by top government and military officials late Friday after a group of nearly 250 Syrian citizens crossed the border into Turkey.
Though the group was allowed to enter Turkey to seek asylum, the development alarmed officials about the potential for a massive influx that would carry tens of thousands to the Turkish border.
If the scale of Syrian asylum seekers remains small, as envisioned in Ankara’s “Plan A,” there will be little problem with allowing them to cross the border and receive humanitarian aid, diplomatic sources said. But if the flow turns into an influx similar to what the country faced in the early 1990s during the first Gulf War, they said, a more substantial project, described as “Plan B,” could be implemented.
This plan envisions the establishment of some safe havens on the Syrian side of the border whose security and humanitarian needs would be provided by Turkey. This would keep Turkey from permanently hosting tens of thousands of people who could return to their homes after the tension in Syria is defused.
In late 1990, nearly half a million Iraqi people crossed into Turkey, fleeing the war between the U.S.-led international community and the Saddam Hussein regime. Despite Turkey’s calls for help, it received no substantial support from the international community in extending humanitarian aid to the migrants. The potential for another massive influx across its borders during the second Iraq War in 2003 pushed Ankara to come up with the idea of establishing safe havens on the Iraqi side of the border.
The presence of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq was an additional reason for crafting this plan at that time. But the expected flood of migrants did not materialize and no safe havens were created.
A similar plan is being mulled by Ankara in the Syrian case, but its implementation requires compatibility with international law. Sources noted that the resolution approved by the United Nations Security Council on Libya constituted the legal basis for international humanitarian assistance to the North African country, saying a similar move for Syria could legitimize Turkey’s plans to establish such secure zones in Syrian territory.
As a sovereign state, Syria would likely oppose the idea of forming such safe havens, which would be protected by Turkish troops, within its territory. “Unless the United Nations Security Council demands such interventions, this move could be interpreted as an attempt at occupation,” an expert on international migration told the Daily News on Sunday.
The assumption Sunday of the presidency of the U.N. Security Council by France has raised expectations in the international community for a swift U.N. resolution. Earlier attempts failed due to Russia’s veto.
Politically oppressed people who are escaping from non-European countries are not accepted as “refugees” by Turkey due to its geographical limitation to the 1967-dated additional protocol of the Geneva Convention. However, it considers them as asylum seekers and meets their basic needs before they are accepted by a third country.
Dialogue with Damascus continues
In the wake of Friday’s border crossing, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu called Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallim twice late Friday to discuss the developments in the neighboring country, sources said.
Speaking to reporters Saturday, Davutoğlu dismissed the idea that Turkey would reintroduce recently lifted visa requirements for Syrian citizens, saying the country would always do its best to protect its Syrian brothers. Though Davutoğlu signaled that Turkey’s doors would be open for those who feel unsafe, he also expressed his hope that Syrian people would not need to cross into Turkey due to the ongoing turmoil in their country.
“Everybody should be able to live in his homeland in peace. This is what we want,” Davutoğlu said, urging Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to establish proper dialogue with his people.
Military intervention would harm
Davutoğlu also warned the international community not to intervene militarily in Syria. “We have to work to nullify such an option. An international intervention could cause unwanted consequences in a country like Syria, a sociologically heterogeneous society,” the foreign minister said Sunday in an interview with a private television channel.
He said there was still an opportunity for the Syrian leadership to find a solution internally but urged Damascus “not to miss this chance.”
Drawing a distinction between Syria and Egypt or other regional countries, Davutoğlu described Turkey’s neighbor as the “summary” of the Middle East. “We do not want to see a cracking of the Syrian mosaic,” he said. “We will consistently continue to advise [Syria]. We hope they will respond."
Source : hurriyet daily news