Aleppo is being ethnically cleansed
The exodus from Aleppo has not yet started. It may not start for a few weeks yet. But chances are that sooner or later, it will happen
Aleppo has been under siege from Assad’s forces and their Russian allies for many, many months now. And while the rebels in the city have on occasion been successful in fighting back, government forces have always managed to return with a vengeance. Aided, in no small part it has to be said, by Russian air power.
But it seems that now the resistance in the city must be on the verge of collapsing. Starvation has long since set in, while Russian aerial bombardment is a daily reality - not least against hospitals and other basic, civilian infrastructure.
For a long time, the inhabitants of the city have remained steadfast, unwilling to abandon their city, and fearing that the “humanitarian corridors” put in place by the besiegers are some kind of trap . Yet they are now left with hardly any resources to put up resistance. Trap or no trap, the corridors offer at least some chance of survival. Whereas remaining in the city looks increasingly likely to end in tragedy. For parents having to look after their children, the calculation of how to best see them through this crisis is shifting.
Of course, the UN and the West are as sceptical of the corridors as the citizens of Aleppo themselves. Neither Assad nor his Russian allies have shown any compunction about bombing civilians in the past - The Syrian Committee for Human Rights has documented as many as 68 ‘massacres’ in July alone.
Missing the point
But this is all to rather miss the point. Of course, we should have no doubt that if Assad and the Russian believed that killing more civilians would help their cause, they would do so without hesitation. The point is, though, that Aleppo is now in a situation where more massacres are no longer needed. I believe that the strategy is not necessarily to lure the citizens of Aleppo out into the open and attack them, but rather, it is to simply remove from the city those who oppose Assad’s regime. From the city, and perhaps even the country. And to move them onwards, ideally, towards Europe.
The exodus from Aleppo has not yet started. It may not start for a few weeks yet. But chances are that sooner or later, it will happen. And when it does, we in the West must be ready for itAzeem Ibrahim
In other words, even the brutal alliance of Assad and Russia are either unwilling, or unable to just kill every last ‘rebel’ in the country. And just as well, they do not need to kill everyone. They just need to make sure that the more militant elements who can and are inclined to put up resistance are removed from the country, while the others can be cowed into submission.
And if they manage to push the remaining people of Aleppo onwards towards Europe, Putin will no doubt count that as a double win. The refugee crisis has already caused more instability in the European Union than the 2008 Financial Crisis and the Greece debt saga combined, and from the point of view of Russia, anything that can pile on the pressure in Brussels and in the other European capitals can only be a good thing for Putin’s geo-political ambitions.
The exodus from Aleppo has not yet started. It may not start for a few weeks yet. But chances are that sooner or later, it will happen. And when it does, we in the West must be ready for it. The politics of the continent are fraught, and the nationalist, xenophobic backlash against the Syrian and Iraqi refugees has been strong. But, in the best case scenario, there will be at least one more wave of migrants to come, and we must pave the way for welcoming and integrating them once more. If we succeed, our societies will be better for it. If we start to fail we are setting ourselves up for decades of very ugly politics in what we would like to think of as the civilized, developed world.
Azeem Ibrahim is an RAI Fellow at Mansfield College, University of Oxford and Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim