Syria’s neighbors weigh joint efforts

Syria’s neighbors weigh joint efforts

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, left, and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, in Amman. (AP Photo)

The eight-year-long Syrian war has shown that the response to the humanitarian catastrophe happening in the country has come mainly from nations directly affected by the conflict and close geographically and culturally.

Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu has proposed the creation of a joint forum with Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq on the return of Syrian refugees to their country, adding that the international community, whose record has been weak in handling the refugee crisis, was also invited to take part.

The plan was revealed during the Turkish diplomat’s recent official visit to Jordan and Lebanon, two countries along with Turkey that host the largest number of Syrian refugees.

Cavusoglu met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. The major topic of conversation during the visit was Syria, which has become a tough ordeal and common concern that they share.

Needless to say, increasing numbers of Syrian refugees and recent policies adopted by the three countries in regard to the matter, was another item on the agenda.

A recent report published by the humanitarian organization Refugees International, warned that tens of thousands of refugees could soon be arriving on their doorsteps due to the recent offensive by the Russian-backed Syrian regime to recapture the last opposition stronghold, Idlib. The report described the military campaign as “one of the bloodiest chapters of the Syrian war.”

Turkey, which already hosts nearly 4 million Syrians, is deeply worried about the consequences of the latest offensive, as it is likely to increase the burden on Ankara.

Speaking to journalists in Beirut, Cavusoglu touched upon the voluntary return of Syrian refugees to their country, saying that Turkey was ready to share its experience with other countries neighboring war-torn Syria.

His Lebanese counterpart, Bassil, said that there should be close coordination between Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan to find “the right solution” for the repatriation of Syrian refugees. “Lebanon is always committed to the dignified return of the Syrian refugees to their country,” he said.

Turkey has once again called on the international community to be more “sensitive” when it comes to the basic needs of those Syrians who return home.

Sinem Cengiz

Lebanon has 1 million registered Syrian refugees, and about 8,000 who fled the war in Syria have returned to the country this year, according to a report released by the UN food program in May.

Turkey has once again called on the international community to be more “sensitive” when it comes to the basic needs of those Syrians who return home. No country, politically and socially, could feel the impact of the Syrian crisis more than its neighbors. Therefore, rather than just sympathizing with them, the international community needs to ease the burden of these countries. Western donors and Gulf countries urgently need to pledge the necessary funding and assistance to allow Turkey to temporarily accommodate more refugees.

The international community’s failure to fulfill its pledges has resulted in the call for a regional forum. Such joint formations are often well-poised to respond to crises due to their shared common threats. Four neighboring states with open borders before the war have the potential to deal with the ever-present problem, having greater diplomatic pull and being better able to provide access for humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, Turkey, Iran and Russia – the three guarantors of the Astana peace process aimed at ending the Syrian crisis – have agreed to invite Lebanon and Iraq as observers to the discussions on Syria, according to a joint statement issued after the 12th round of Astana talks held in Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan. Jordan was also invited previously by Russia. The tripartite guarantors hope that by increasing the number of observers, the talks will attract greater support from actors with a stake in the Syrian conflict. 

The regional and international developments of the past decade have significantly affected Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. During the Arab uprisings, which changed the course of Middle Eastern history, the four countries have found themselves on the same page due to the security threats emanating from the conflict in Syria.

Regional joint forums are created to address a particular concern and shape collective action within a geographical region. Syria is a hot fire in the center of this region which is surrounded by four countries that have started to pay a high price due to the years of war. Such a forum can achieve success only if it is supported by the international community.

  • Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz
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