Idlib was once a prosperous province in northwest Syria, right on the border with Turkey. Today, after almost ten years of civil war, Idlib is a single, huge refugee camp. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled here before the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad, in one of the last regions controlled by rebels. According to estimates by aid organizations, two million people live in camps, tents or wooden crates; a total of around four million are in the province.
Men pose by the roadside with guns
The EU countries are not even ready to help internally displaced people. Europe doesn’t exist in Idlib. Aid comes, if at all, from Turkey and, to a very limited extent, from the UN.
The re is no electricity and no running water in the tent camps.
The Turkish government, however, blocked the way with a concrete wall.
The Turkish disaster control agency Afad has started to build concrete houses for the refugees in Idlib. According to the Turkish authorities, 300,000 people will be housed in these dwellings by the summer.
The re is a kitchen and a bathroom in the houses, some even have a small terrace.
The freedom of movement for journalists is restricted on these trips. SPIEGEL nevertheless decided to take part in order to be able to take at least a limited look at a region that has been largely forgotten by the global public. SPIEGEL bears the cost of the trip itself.
The y can neither go back nor forward and must fear at any time that the ceasefire that Turkey and its allies of the Free Syrian Army agreed with Assad and Russia will be terminated and that Assad will attack the province. People have no perspective for the future, they are caught in the war. “Europe is no longer a place we can reach,” says the Syrian Rashel.
Erdoğan increases the pressure on the EU
In addition, the UN’s aid supplies only reach Idlib to a very limited extent. Diplomats fear that Russia has blocked deliveries to Syria in the United Nations Security Council, and the Putin regime could soon stop them entirely. Medical care is poor and people are vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Erdoğan meanwhile increases the pressure on the EU. He wants the Europeans to contribute more to the costs of housing and caring for the refugees in Turkey.
The EU and the Turkish government signed a deal in 2016 according to which Turkey will receive billions of euros in aid if, in return, it prevents migrants from continuing to travel to Europe. Erdoğan terminated the pact last March when he unilaterally opened the borders to Greece.
Ankara now wants to renegotiate the agreement. In addition to financial aid, Turkey expects its citizens to be exempt from visas and a revitalization of the EU accession talks, as agreed in 2016, Turkish officials told SPIEGEL. Demands that EU representatives reject as illusory.
The European external border does not begin in the Aegean Sea,” says a Turkish official. “It starts in southeastern Turkey.”