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The game of safe zone in Syria

The current situation with regard to Syria safe zones is not only bad but also very scary

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

It seems the Syrian people no longer have a say in what happens to them despite the several conferences held to discuss their situation and the solutions proposed. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has all by himself decided who represents opposition organizations.

The Russians wrote Syria’s future constitution and brought its printed copy to the Astana conference. Meanwhile, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi spoke on behalf of Syrian refugees and said no to safe zones. This is the current situation in Syria, and it’s more difficult and weirder than any other phase in the past few years.

Millions of Syrian refugees have become a topic which governments throw in each other’s court, especially after US President Donald Trump surprised everyone by adopting the idea of establishing safe zones for refugees inside Syria. Former President Barack Obama promised to establish zones like those in 2012 but then abandoned the idea.

The current situation is not only bad but it’s also very scary. There are more than 12 million Syrian refugees, and this is the biggest number of refugees in the history of civil wars since World War II. These refugees pose a threat to the security of countries like Turkey and Lebanon and threaten the continuity of the European Union entity. They have also become part of the internal dispute in the US.

Varying positions

There are different positions with regard to the safe zones, just as the case is with any other affair related to Syria. Russians are opposed to the plan. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized it and then tactically amended his position in what seems like an attempt to avoid embarrassing Trump.

Iranians and the Syrian regime reiterated that they officially oppose the idea because they think it violates sovereignty and because Assad, after launching a geographic cleansing operation, wants to get rid of the millions of the Syrians who oppose him. Turkey insists to keep displaced Syrians inside Syria and refuses to host more refugees after it became a target for terrorist groups which exploit the Syrians.

Europe too thinks this refugees’ influx is a major security issue and it wants to stop it by building safe zones either in Syria or outside. Lebanon wants to stop more refugees from coming in and to send the million refugees it currently houses back to Syria.

Millions of Syrian refugees have become a topic which governments throw in each others’ court, especially after US President Donald Trump surprised everyone by adopting the idea of establishing safe zones for refugees inside Syria

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Lebanon has, for the first time, adopted a stance that opposes Damascus as President Michel Aoun said he supports Trump’s call to establish safe zones inside Syria and called for returning the refugees in Lebanon to Syria. Aoun also called for placing these safe zones under the Syrian regime’s supervision.

Grandi, who is supposed to be the most concerned about housing the millions of refugees in exile, returned from Damascus and said he’s against establishing safe zones for refugees inside Syria! His stance is strange because he does not even have an alternative solution. Can he convince other countries to welcome the current millions of refugees and the millions who will follow them? Of course not. Can he convince hosting countries, like Lebanon, to continue to bear the burden of housing this massive number of people? He tried and failed.

His point of view is not completely wrong as protecting these safe zones and sponsoring them is almost impossible but at the same time he is forgetful of the fact that millions of refugees do not only suffer from the absence of security but they also suffer from hunger and cold and absence of refuge.

No perfect solution

There is no perfect solution. Despite that, the proposed safe zones are good enough to halt the influx of refugees and to stop the sectarian cleansing operation which has been the adopted policy through exporting the Syrian problem to the world instead of limiting it to be only the regime’s problem.

Millions of the displaced Syrians were a gain to terrorist organizations as they recruited angry men who were willing to fight under any slogan. Terrorist groups used these people in terrorist operations against friendly and neutral countries, and it also used them against their enemies and against Syrian organizations while fighting mad and absurd wars.

This is the outcome of the policy of displacement which the Syrian people have being subjected to during the past seven years. Refugees have now become a major cause and they may lead the path to a peace project, which has become urgent. Syrian refugees have become the most important cause in the world and they may be the key to stop massacres and displacement.

This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat on February 07 2017.
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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.