Documentation is mounting of Greek authorities carrying out violent "pushbacks" of asylum-seekers and migrants at the country's land and sea borders with Turkey. The practice violates EU and international law, but in the past four months human rights groups and media outlets have documented an uptick in its use at the Greece-Turkey land border. Rights groups have also documented the abandonment of asylum-seekers in "floating tents" without any means of propulsion in the Aegean Sea, and masked men sabotaging boats carrying asylum-seekers. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has urged Greece to investigate.
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry on June 18 summoned both the Turkish and Iranian ambassadors to protest recent military operations both their countries launched on Iraqi territory, in a seemingly coordinated drive against revolutionary Kurdish forces. In a series of raids over the past days, Ankara's warplanes and Tehran's artillery targeted presumed strongholds of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), respectively. Local Kurdish and Yazidi communities reported that fields and woodlands had been set ablaze and families forced to flee by the bombardment. Turkey has also sent a contingent of special forces troops across the border into northern Iraq as a part of the operation, codenamed "Claw Eagle." The troops are backed up by combat helicopters and drones.
Libya's UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) regained full control of Tripoli with the recapture of the city's airport on June 4—the last pocket held by the eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar, whose forces had been besieging the capital since April 2019. Haftar's forces fled east toward Tarhouna and Bani Walid, their last remaining strongholds in the west, with the GNA forces in pursuit. The GNA advance, dubbed Operation Volcano of Rage, follows reports last month that mercenaries from Russia's Wagner Group, who had been fighting for Haftar, were being evacuated from Libya. This suggests that Russian support for Haftar may have been sacrificed in Moscow's new rapprochement with Turkey, the main foreign sponsor of the GNA. (BBC News, Libya Observer, Al Jazeera)
The Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), a diplomatic think-tank established by presidential decree, has issued a report predicting that Russia, Turkey and Iran will soon reach a joint agreement to remove Syrian dictator Bashar Assad from power, replacing him with a transitional government including members of both the regime and opposition, as well as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). In its coverage of the report, Russian news agency TASS suggested that Moscow fears a repeat of the "Afghan scenario" in Syria if it continues to back an unpopular regime. It also suggested that Assad is perceived by Moscow as too beholden to Tehran.
Syrian Kurdish officials on April 29 condemned the bombing in Afrin that claimed the lives of at least 40 civilians, including 12 children. The explosive device was apparently attached to an oil tanker and was detonated as it drove through a crowded market. "We in the Syrian Democratic Council condemn and denounce this cowardly terrorist act that targeted innocent civilians and threatens the remaining ones to move and leave their villages and cities," the SDC, political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said in a public statement. It called on the international community to fulfill its responsibilities and "work to end the Turkish occupation of the city of Afrin and all other areas that it occupied."
Nine years ago this week, the Syrian Revolution began with peaceful pro-democracy protests. The first demonstrations broke out in the city of Deraa after local schoolchildren painted a mural depicting scenes and slogans from the recent revolutions in other Arab countries, and were detained and brutalized by the police. The Bashar Assad regime responded to the demonstrations with serial massacres. After months of this, the Free Syrian Army emerged, initially as a self-defense militia to protect protesters. But the situation soon escalated to an armed insurgency. The regime lost control of areas of the country, and local civil resistance committees backed by the FSA seized control. Assad then escalated to levels of violence rarely seen on Earth since World War II.
In his talks with Vladimir Putin on their carve-up of northern Syria, Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that he has proposed joint Russian-Turkish control of the oil-fields in Deir ez-Zor province, now under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). "I made the offer to Mr. Putin that if he gives financial support, we can do the construction, and through the oil obtained here, we can help the destroyed Syria get on its feet," Erdogan told reporters March 10. (Al Monitor) The Wall Street Journal meanwhile reports that the SDF has been selling oil from the Deir ez-Zor fields to the Assad regime. A regime-aligned entity called the Qatirji Group is reportedly brokering the deal. (VOA)
Refugees have become political pawns in a power play between the EU, Greece and Turkey. Turkey abrogated its deal with the European Union to contain refugees within its borders, as a means of pressuring the EU to support its military campaign in Syria. Dramatic scenes ensued at the land and sea borders between Greece and Turkey: Greek police tear-gassing and pushing back crowds of asylum-seekers at a northern border crossing; the Hellenic Coast Guard firing warning shots at a dinghy full of asylum-seekers in the Aegean Sea; angry protesters preventing another group in a dinghy from disembarking in the port on the island of Lesvos. Amid all this came a timely reminder of what can happen when people feel compelled to attempt ever more dangerous journeys. The UN migration agency, IOM, announced that the drowning of 91 people off the coast of Libya last month and other recent fatalities had taken the toll in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014 above 20,000.