Last updated on October 6th, 2019
An expanded “safe zone” that would assure safety to as many as 3 million people in northern Syria and stretch as far as Raqqa, was proposed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the 74th UN General Assembly.
The war-torn zone has been dealing with the hapless situation to provide its natives a safe zone for years. While Turkey was more receptive to refugees earlier, a diplomatic shift in its interest has made the matter worse.
In his speech, President Erdoğan clarified his demand and also pressed to catalyze the pace for the resettlement of Syrian refugees living in Turkey. His idea, however, was viewed as conflicting with Kurds in Northern Syria and deemed by the group as a Turkish land grab strategy.
Erdoğan said at the 74th UN General Assembly: “If this safe zone can be declared, we can resettle confidently somewhere between 1 to 2 million refugees. Whether with the US or the coalition forces, Russia and Iran, we can walk shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand so refugees can resettle, saving them from tent camps and container camps.” Adding that he was looking forward to establishing a corridor with an initial depth of 30km and a length of 480km, which could home up to 2 million refugees. He also suggested a further expansion of safe zone between Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor line.
However, the move has instilled fear amongst Kurds in northern Syria, who believe that such a plan would lead to a violent displacement, the way it happened in Afrin last year. Although, the Kurds accepted joint US and Turkish aerial patrols between al Abyad and Ras al-Ain, but they have sidelined all the bids for any further extension.
On the other hand, Americans have showcased support to Syrian Kurds, which remains a point of rift between Ankara and Washington, ever since the US military commenced providing weapons to the Kurdish-led Syrian Defence Forces (SDF) in 2014.
An extended division of the SDF is headed by the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), a Kurdish militia, which Turkey states as an arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK). Interestingly, Turkey and America both have termed it as a militia group.
In the months leading to the 74th UN General Assembly, Erdoğan was seen as growing impatient about how the US was dealing with subsequent development of the “safe zones”. Thereby, he also pushed the US President Donald Trump to increase the speed of the process.
Erdoğan’s plan is a clear indication of his desire to send back Syrians to their native land, and if the US doesn’t pace up, it would be hard to predict what might happen next.