Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan plans to create new buffer zones which stretch to Syria’s last rebel-held province of Idlib to prevent more Syrian refugees from fleeing into Turkey amid escalated tensions in the region, Fabrice Balanche, fellow at U.S.-based think tank the Washington Institute, said on Monday.
“The current version of Turkey’s plan is to establish a thirty-two-kilometer-deep buffer zone from the Tigris River in northeast Syria all the way to Idlib, and then move as many Syrian refugees as possible there,” Balanche said.
Turkey has lost 13 soldiers within a week, causing tensions to rise in Idlib. Millions of Syrians are fleeing towards Turkey. In order to avoid a further influx of refugees which would add to Turkey’s burden, Turkey is thus adding buffer zones that would hold up to 650,000 refugees.
Three quarters of these refugees would be Kurds, who would then likely flee to Iraq where they have migration set-ups that would take them to Europe, said Balanche.
Europeans are hesitant to open their doors to refugees because of the financial burdens as well as possible political outcomes of a new refugee wave. According to Balanche, Erdoğan has two options: to allow displaced persons to enter Turkey, and eventually Europe, or to send them back to Syria.
“Erdogan believes that the threat of a new refugee wave is great enough to spur Europe into accepting and financing option two,” he said.
The obstacle with this plan is that Turkey would have to resume military operations against the Syrian Kurds in order to take over more border areas.
“Erdogan’s objective is to replace these Kurds with Sunni Arabs in order to establish a non-Kurdish buffer area along the entire border—an outcome that would align with his broader effort to suppress the violent Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) at home and its sister militia in north Syria, the People’s Defense Units (YPG),” said Balanche.
Russia and the United States do not support this plan as it is costly and threatens the positions of the Kurds. They also doubt its efficiency, saying it would still leave out millions of refugees who might then flee to Europe.