Dr Andrew Murrison, Britain’s Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, visited Ankara and Gaziantep, Turkey, on February 5th and 6th 2020, to discuss a raft of regional issues, with the worsening humanitarian crisis in Idlib, Syria, topping the agenda.
In Ankara, the Minister met with Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal, Presidential Adviser Ibrahim Kalin and Deputy Defence Minister Yunus Emre Karaosmanoğlu.
Their discussions spanned “regional issues including Iran and Iraq, the ongoing need to confront Daesh, the Middle East peace process, as well as the conflicts in Syria and Libya”, according to a statement from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
The growing crisis in Idlib – the last rebel strong-hold – was of particular concern for the two NATO allies.
Turkey has forces inside Syria as it tries to maintain the peace amongst different factions. However, the situation has deteriorated significantly in recent weeks due to escalating military action by the Assad regime, which is backed by Russia.
Deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Idlib
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), over 115,000 civilians were displaced in less than 6 days after a ground offensive began on 24 January.
The SOHR claim the total number of people forced from their homes across rural areas south of Idlib and west of Aleppo between 1 December 2019 and the end of January 2020 rose to nearly 580,000 civilians, creating a major new refugee crisis.
An estimated 390,000 people have fled northwest Syria between Dec 1 and Jan 27, according to the UN. Backed by Russian air strikes, Syrian regime forces have captured dozens of towns in Idlib and raised the spectre of a new refugee crisis#radioeastmed pic.twitter.com/lTAN6Vx2Rh
— Radio EastMed (@RadioEastmed) February 2, 2020
Turkey has increased its military presence in Syria, sending more trucks and troops in the past few days after an attack by Syrian government forces killed at least five of its soldiers and three civilians attached to the Turkish army.
Dr Murrison travelled to Gaziantep, eastern Turkey, to witness first-hand the impact of the conflict, and how British aid is assisting Turkey in hosting more refugees than any other country in the world.
The Minister talked to refugees who had fled the conflict. He also met with the heads of UN agencies in Gaziantep, and representatives of Syrian and Turkish civil society organisations.
UK commits £2.81 billion to Syrian refugees – its largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis
Speaking at the end of his visit Dr Murrison said:
”Turkey is an extremely important partner for the UK. I’m grateful to my Turkish counterparts for their perspectives on how we can work together towards shared goals; regional stability and relief for refugees.
“In Gaziantep, I saw for myself the impact UK aid is having, enabling vital health and education services to vulnerable people who have suffered unimaginable trauma in Syria.
“From staff at UN agencies, refugees and NGOs, I heard powerful and emotional testimonies about life in Northern Syria and the appalling escalation of violence. The latest attacks are exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation. All parties must adhere to agreed ceasefires, respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians and aid workers.”
The UK is a leading donor to the Syria humanitarian response. The British government has committing £2.81 billion – its largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis, according to an FCO statement about Dr Murrison’s Turkey trip.
Since 2012, across Syria and the region, the UK has provided over 28 million food rations, over 17 million medical consultations, and over 12 million vaccines. UK aid provides life-saving support to millions of Syrian refugees.
Main picture, top (l-r): Turkey’s Deputy Defence Minister Yunus Emre Karaosmanoğlu & UK Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa Dr Andrew Murrison, Ankara, 6 Feb. 2020. Photo © Twitter/Andrew Murrison