Humanitarian concerns are growing as Turkey's military incursion into northeastern Syria widens and desperate civilians flee on tractors, trucks and motorcycles, becoming the region’s newest refugees. International and local aid agencies fear that hundreds of thousands of people could be at risk, as Turkey launches airstrikes and pursues a ground offensive to clear once-U.S.-backed Kurdish forces from the border area.
Chaotic scenes are being repeated of frightened Kurdish, Syriac Christian and Yazidi civilians escaping on foot, carrying plastic bags with their worldly goods, while others are herded onto trucks or motorcycles, enveloped in plumes of dust from the latest Turkish bombardment of their land. Roads are gridlocked with hundreds of fleeing families saying they don’t know where to go for safety.
The International Rescue Committee says that “as the Turkish offensive in Syria begins, the IRC is deeply concerned about the lives and livelihoods of the two million civilians in northeast Syria who have already survived ISIS brutality and multiple displacements," in a statement issued Thursday, using an alternate reference for Islamic State.
Catholic priest Father Emanuel Youkhana, who runs the Christian Aid Program northern Iraq to help displaced Iraqis resulting from Islamic State attacks, told VOA from the Dohuk region that he expects a “wave of refugees” from nearby northeastern Syria to flood into Iraq.
"The most stable, peaceful region of all Syria for years has been this area of northeast area. Unfortunately, and painfully to say, we are expecting the worst," said Youkhana. "Definitely, the borders will be opened from the Iraqi side to innocent civilians. We do expect mass waves of refugees. "
Youkhana and other humanitarian responders say they are suspicious and critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s call for a so-called safe zone along the Turkish-Syrian border, where he plans to displace Kurds, Christians and Yazidis and move in two million Sunni Muslims from other parts of Syria.
"Erdogan this time is targeting all the people, except the terrorists," said Youkhana. "Actually, it is a demographic change policy."
Meanwhile, Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government in Irbil says it does not have the capacity to accommodate all the people who are expected to be displaced as a result of the Turkish offensive.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces that had been backed by the U.S. until this week, has called on the international community for assistance, saying the border areas of northeastern Syria "are on the edge of a possible humanitarian catastrophe."