Syria peace talks flounder, raising fears of an escalation in the refugee crisis

The World
Displaced Syrian children waiting to cross the border into Turkey

Displaced Syrian children wait to cross the border into Turkey

Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

Fears are rising of a new and even more massive refugee crisis in Europe, come the spring. This is mainly because there is no end in sight to the civil war in Syria, which is getting ever more violent.

UN officials tried to convene peace talks in Geneva on Friday, to try to find an end to the Syrian civil war. The regime of President Bashar al-Assad was represented. But the UN struggled to get the main rebel opposition coalition to even sit down for "proximity talks."

Assad’s regime, backed by increasing Russian and Iranian military assistance, has been making gains on the ground lately. But this is not a black and white conflict between two sides. The opposition is fractured. There are several Islamic extremist groups allied with the opposition. The regime and most opposition groups are also at war with ISIS. Kurdish groups have carved out their own autonomous areas and are reluctant to cooperate with anyone.  

The continuation of the war will have one clear consequence says Amr Al-Azm, who is professor of history at Shawnee State University in Ohio and a supporter of the Syrian opposition.

“If the Europeans think they’ve seen the peak of this refugee crisis, then they’re very much mistaken,” says Azm.

Azm is just back from Europe where he met with a variety of officials and experts. “They’re all very much aware that as soon as spring comes there’s going to be a new wave, which I think will make what happened last year pale in comparison.”

Azm says Europe is trying to encourage countries like Greece and especially Turkey to find ways to compel the refugees to stay in camps there. But he says that’s unworkable, as the refugees lose hope of seeing an end to the war. “No one is dealing with the elephant in the room, which is the need to deal with the war.”