Writing from within Syria Hamish de Bretton Gordon argues the merits of a Safe Zone, including a No Fly Zone
“The manifest dreadfulness of the Syrian refugee crisis requires the International Community to look at options to invest in Syria which does not include the drain of its brightest and best to advanced countries around the world, and hence condemning Syria to terminal and irreversible decline.
The Safe Zone concept recognises that re homing plus of 5 million refugees is not a long term option for Syria and if nothing is demonstratively done to reverse the outflow from Syria, this could grow by another 7 million, who are currently displaced in Syria.
The Safe Zone concept recognises that the vast majority of Syrians want to remain in Syria or return to Syria if it is free of the tyranny of Assad and the terror of ISIL.
The proposal is designed t0 –
– enable a Safe Zone in NW Syria, bounded by a line from Kilis in the North to Aleppo, south to Idlib and around to Ryhanli, as a ‘pilot’ scheme to re-invest in Syria in order to begin the reverse of the exodus of Syrians, especially the intelligentsia and young, and to create the conditions in Syria to enable refugees to return and begin the prospect of some sort of civilised future for Syria.
To restore hope to the Syrian people who have been attacked by Assad and now ISIL to a point where life in Syria is untenable for the vast population, and many are taking great risks to abandon their country, with the prospect of a better future, most especially in Europe.
This pilot scheme should be seen as a bridgehead for Syrians to re-occupy their country as the viable alternative to the perceived life of peace and prosperity in Europe. If successful, the concept can be replicated in the south on the Jordanian border and beyond. At the same time the global fight against ISIL can begin in earnest in Syria, and the Safe Zone expanded into areas when liberated.
There is nothing to lose by this option – the other options only offer comprehensive and total defeat and decline for the Syrian people.
A number of factors conflagrate to make a Safe Zone in NW Syria a real and viable option:
• This area is currently free of ISIL and Regime troops and some way from Russian key locations in Syria, Latakia and Tartus.
• Area of about 1500 sq Kms.
• It is predominantly controlled by Free Syrian Army and moderate groups.
• There are about 500,000 refugees in camps on the Syrian side of the border living in abject disappear and poverty.
• There is little food, water and electricity.
• There are very few functioning schools and a generation of children are completely missing an education.
• 75% of children between the ages of 9-13 suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (UOSSM figures).
• UOSSM have proved they can run effective medical facilities in this area.
There are three key requirements for this Safe Zone, a No Fly Zone, security on the ground and sufficient humanitarian aid and infrastructure:
NFZ is required to stop the regime dropping barrel bombs indiscriminately on civilians which is the main reason civilians leave Syria. There are still allegedly 200 deaths a week caused by barrel bombs.
Assad continues to drop chlorine (chemical) barrel bombs which are perceived as the greatest terror on the ground…..
‘We can hide from bombs and bullets but not gas……….’Syrian Doctors Bab Al Hawa
NFZ in this area could be policed by naval ships in the Eastern Mediterranean with radar and missiles. This would negate the need for coalition aircraft to fly in ‘Syrian & Russian’ air space which is guarded by effective anti-aircraft assets.
NFZ will enable FSA troops on the ground to manoeuvre and provide security unhindered by air assets
Security on the ground to be provided by the FSA and supported by moderate militias already operating in the area.
FSA will need to clear the area and establish a strong boundary force. Local commanders believe this is possible. Probably/ideally need support from experts from Coalition and ideally Turkish/NATO/UN troops on the ground.
Humanitarian aid and infrastructure requires significant resources, water food etc will needed in the Zone initially and must be sustained. Accommodation needs to be rapidly provided and to allow expansion of refugee camps. Schools and other infrastructure (bridges, roads etc) and sufficient employment to generate incomes and get all involved in rebuilding their country.
The time frame required is likely to be around 6 months to establish but no fly zone could be in place in days, build-up of Humanitarian aid & Infrastructure on the border and security a few months and infrastructure build in the Safe Zone 6 months and beyond.
There are of course many hurdles to jump. It will require Russian and Iranian support and acknowledgement that Assad does not have a long term future in Syria, which is a
sticking point in the UN. From my experience most Syrians will not support a future Syria which involves Assad – but almost anything (one) else.
Significant resources are required for success but less than housing 5-12 million Syrians elsewhere. We must avoid an uncontrollable flood of humanity to this Safe Zone by ensuring all planning and support is robust and in-depth to ensure durability and longevity of the Zone concept.
To continue to do nothing is no longer an option if we want to prevent up to 15 million Syrian refugees requiring homes in ostensibly Europe and an Islamic State in Syria and Iraq for starters.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE, on the Syrian Border Ryhanli,