Europe must not abandon Syria

People gather as the search for survivors continues in the aftermath of an earthquake
People gather as the search for survivors continues in the aftermath of an earthquake

The death toll from the devastating series of earthquakes that have hit Turkey and Syria continues to rise. Governments and aid organisations have mobilised their staff and resources, but their efforts are being hampered by the freezing temperatures and the sheer scale of the destruction. Thousands of buildings have been flattened and the World Health Organisation estimates that some 23 million people have been affected in one way or another. They are the worst earthquakes to hit Turkey in decades.

For Syria, it is a double tragedy given that the damage from this natural disaster comes on top of that wrought by over a decade of civil war. Swathes of the north of that country are not controlled by Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus or by the Kurds, but by a variety of rebel groups, some of which have links to al-Qaeda. The security situation is almost certainly going to disrupt the provision of aid.

Will the Syrians be abandoned yet again? Since Islamic State was largely defeated by a military coalition led by the United States, western governments have seemed content to leave Syria’s fate to be determined by Assad, his Russian and Iranian allies, and regional powers such as Turkey. Millions of refugees have been unable to return home, and a chronic economic crisis has left those still living in Syria in a permanently perilous state.

The immediate focus has to be on ensuring that help gets to where it is most needed, which is likely to be a job for the United Nations and its agencies. But Europe cannot ignore indefinitely the fact that it has a failed state on its doorstep. At some point, it will have to confront the consequences.