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.
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria issued a report March 2 charging that Russia is responsible for war crimes in the ongoing Syrian conflict. The report focuses on indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas from July 2019 through January 2020, and apparently intentional attacks by "pro-government forces" on civilian targets such as hospitals and medical facilities. The commission focused on two incidents in which it found substantial evidence that Russian warplanes were directly involved in the bombing of civilian areas.
Amid all the recent talk about how the war in Syria is approaching an imminent end, it suddenly looks like it is set for international escalation. With Turkish forces resisting the Assadist advance into Idlib province, the last rebel-held territory, there is the clear potential for direct combat between a NATO member and the Damascus regime or its Russian backers. Turkey's military shot down two regime warplanes over northwest Idlib on March 1, hours after Assadist forces brought down a Turkish drone over the region. The Damascus regime said the pilots parachuted to safety. At least 34 Turkish troops were killed in air-strikes in Idlib n the previous days. (Al Jazeera, Reuters)
A senior UN official charged Feb. 16 at a press conference in Munich that numerous countries are violating the Libya arms embargo and that they must be held accountable. UN Deputy Special Representative to Libya Stephanie Williams said that "the arms embargo has become a joke." Williams' comments follow a UN Security Council resolution passed just a week earlier expressing "grave concern" for the humanitarian situation in Libya, noting especially "deteriorating living standards and insufficient provision of basic services" and "the situation faced by migrants, refugees, and internally displaced people." The Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Khalifa Haftar, has been fighting with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) for control of Tripoli since April of last year. Russia, Egypt and the UAE are said to be supporting the LNA, while Turkey supports the GNA. Foreign powers are violating the arms embargo "by land, sea and air," Williams said. (Jurist)
Over half a million people are on the move in northwestern Syria's Idlib province as Bashar Assad's Russian-backed forces follow up their long aerial campaign with a ground offensive. The front line is closing on the provincial capital, the Turkish border is sealed to people trying to flee, and health services are collapsing. Eight aid agencies have issued a statement saying that the Idlib warzone is already a winter "humanitarian catastrophe," as options shrink for temporary accommodation and camps for the displaced are overflowing. As rebel defenses collapse, displaced civilians are dismantling their own homes before they flee to deny looters property they expect never to see again. Decisions made by Turkey in the coming days will be key for the future of the millions of people in the region: Turkish forces and groups they back have been directly involved in recent fighting around the strategic town of Saraqeb, exchanging fire with Syrian government forces, according to Turkish media. Russia says "terrorist" rebels are mounting an "aggressive" campaign of attacks on government-held territory. Russia and Assad show little sign of slowing their offensive despite calls for restraint from the EU, the UN, and the United States.
A report published Jan. 27 by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the UN Human Rights Office reveals that at least 53 migrants and refugees were killed in the July 2019 air-strikes on the Tajoua detention center outside Tripoli. Those killed were determined to be citizens of Algeria, Chad, Bangladesh, Morocco, Niger and Tunisia. The report also determined that 87 male migrants and refugees were injured in the attack. The strikes were found to have been conducted by aircraft belonging to a "foreign state" that might have been under the command of the Libyan National Army (LNA) or operated under the command of that foreign state in support of the LNA. The report found that in addition to the internal conflict in Libya, a "parallel situation of international armed conflict" may also exist between outside states supporting the LNA and rival Government of National Accord (GNA).
The Court of Cassation of Belgium on Jan. 28 upheld a lower court's judgement and ruled that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is not a "terrorist organization." The case, one of several in Belgium relating to the nature of the PKK, stems from an investigation into three local Kurdish supporters of the party by Belgian judicial authorities. The legality of the investigation was challenged, and in May 2017 the Court of Appeals ruled for the three activists. The Federal Prosecutor's appeal of this ruling has now been rejected. Speaking to Kurdish news agency ANF after the high court decision, one of the three targeted leaders, Zübeyir Aydar of the Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), said: "The Court of Cassation ruling recognizes the fact that the Kurdistan freedom struggle cannot be accused of terrorism, that what is in question is not terror but a war, and the PKK is a party of this war. This is a first in Europe and we hope it will set an example to other countries." A case has been pending since November 2018 before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg challenging the European Union's listing of the PKK as a "terrorist organization."
The Turkish air force on Jan. 15 again carried out raids targeting the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a Yazidi militia, in the autonomous Sinjar area of Iraq's Ninevah province. Reports said at least four people were killed, including militia commander Zardasht Shingali. The YBS, aligned with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), played a key role in liberating the Sinjar area from ISIS after the Islamic State's genocide against the Yazidis in 2014. After the new air-strikes, the Kurdish Freedom Movement umbrella group called for protests against the Turkish aggression in cities across Europe. Demonstrations were reported from Athens, Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Marseille, Stockholm and Utrecht. (Al Monitor, The Canary)