Turkey will allow up to one million Syrian refugees to pass through its territory to reach Europe ahead of a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive on the last rebel-held territory in the war-torn country.
“We have decided, effectively immediately, not to stop Syrian refugees from reaching Europe by land or sea,” a Turkish official told Reuters. “All refugees, including Syrians, are now welcome to cross into the European Union.”
Footage of Syrian refugees boarding boats attempting to reach the islands of Greece was broadcast on CNN Turkey, while a reporter for Middle East Eye shared a picture of a bus placed by Greek authorities in front of its Pazarkule border crossing with Turkey, to prevent refugees from entering.
Syria’s offensive on Idlib province, targeting the last remnants of the rebellion including several Al-Qaeda groups, has forced one million people to flee their homes. International aid groups have struggled to provide food and shelter to refugees, some of whom have frozen to death after repeated cold winter nights.
The Turkish army, stationed along the country’s border with Syria, has repeatedly come into conflict with Syrian government forces. Syria killed 33 Turkish soldiers on Thursday in a series of air strikes.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone conversation Friday told Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who backs Syrian government forces, that any Syrian military position was a legitimate target for Turkish forces. Erdogan is scheduled to speak with President Trump on Friday regarding the attacks on the Turkish military and the refugee issue.
The nine-year Syrian civil war has produced one of the world’s largest refugee crises, with millions of migrants fleeing to Europe throughout the conflict.