Russian Intervention Could Increase Syrian Refugee Count By 75 Percent, Turkish Officials Warn

Refugees and migrants arrive on a dinghy after crossing from Turkey to Lesbos island, Greece, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/PETROS GIANNAKOURIS
Refugees and migrants arrive on a dinghy after crossing from Turkey to Lesbos island, Greece, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/PETROS GIANNAKOURIS

The international community is already facing a refugee crisis largely driven by the war in Syria. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are currently fleeing wars in the Middle East for the relative safety of Europe. But that crisis could get even worse, if Turkish officials are to be believed, due to Russian airstrikes on areas housing Syrian civilians.

Russian warplanes most recently bombed a group of villages where opposition groups are based, the Washington Post reported. According to Turkish estimates, 3 million more Syrians could flee from Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, and the surrounding neighborhoods. Russia started hitting targets provided by the Assad regime in Syria on September 30. Russia claimed they were targeting ISIS, also known as ISIL or the Islamic State, but the international community claims that U.S. backed rebels are being hit instead.

“Violence and increased military activity breed displacement of civilians,” International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman Leonard Doyle told the BBC.

More than 4 million people have fled Syria, a country that is now in its fifth year of civil war. The majority of refugees are located in bordering countries like Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Though as aid becomes sparser in countries where there are already few opportunities for the refugees to work, many have boarded rickety ships to try and start a new life in Europe.

“During my visits to the region whoever I spoke to — presidents or refugees in the camps — in Turkey, Jordan, or Egypt warned me against one thing: a potential victory of Assad’s regime — more likely today because of Russia’s and Iran’s engagement in Syria — will result in the next migratory wave,” President of the European Council Donald Tusk said. “Yesterday, this message was confirmed by [Turkish] President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan. According to Turkish estimates another three million potential refugees may come from Aleppo and its neighborhood.”

EU leaders agreed on an action plan in coordination with Erdogan that would deal with the refugee crisis. Turkey currently hosts somewhere around 2.2 million Syrian refugees. Lebanon meanwhile is hosting well over 1 million and with a population of just over 4 million, there are 232 Syrian refugees for every 1000 people in the diminutive nation.

“We urgently need to organize a new donor conference to finance the refugee camps in Lebanon and Turkey, so that people are safe and children can go to school instead of being on the run,” Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the European Liberals and Democrats, said.

Many politicians and political commentators have argued that the only way to end the crisis is to end the war in Syria. But the war looks set to drag on with Russia’s airstrikes and the U.S. set to gear up their own campaign against ISIS. Russia may also be gearing up for a ground attack, according to CNN.

As David Axe wrote in the Daily Beast last Friday, “In borrowing methods — and targets — from the Syrian regime’s own bloody air war, Russia is likely to kill more civilians, create more refugees, and make an already terrible conflict even worse.”