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Calls For A Safe Zone In Syria Raise Concern For Refugees


Here's one idea that keeps coming up in the conflict in Syria. Create a no-fly zone or a safe zone carved out inside the country. The Obama administration has not liked this idea. It would not be an easy thing to create or to defend, especially now since the airspace is crowded with Russian warplanes. NPR's Peter Kenyon says there is another concern about a safe zone, and it comes from Syrians who are sheltering next-door in Turkey. They're wondering, what if this became a place to put refugees?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: It's not such a far-fetched idea that Europe could try to solve its migrant crisis by helping create a safe zone to keep displaced Syrians in their own country rather than fleeing to Turkey and then Europe. The safe-zone idea keeps resurfacing along, with calls for a no-fly zone, despite resistance from the White House as pressure grows in Europe to halt the flow of people to its borders. That wasn't the original impetus for a safe zone. Turkey has long called for a humanitarian corridor, through which aid could get to those who need it most. And U.S.-backed opposition rebels would love a no-fly zone where nearby civilians wouldn't be exposed to the deadly barrel bombs of the Syrian military. But Syrian author and blogger Abu Dandachi says the idea of putting refugees in the safe zone is troubling.

ABU DANDACHI: Now, if the safe haven will be a place where the political opposition can organize themselves, then yes, that would be useful. But if it's just a place to dump refugees in, then I absolutely am terrified of the prospect.

KENYON: July marked the 20th anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica, in which 8,000 Muslims were killed by Bosnian Serbs in a purported U.N. safe zone. Dandachi says those deaths still resonate with Syrian refugees.

DANDACHI: We already saw in Srebrenica what happened to the people who took refuge in a U.N. safe zone. I will not put my future in the hands of the U.N. or anybody who comes up with this kind of half-baked plan because we've seen the precedent before. And it has been a tragic precedent.

KENYON: As long as the Russian air campaign continues, analysts say there's not much chance of a safe zone being established for any purpose. But if the latest talks between Moscow and Washington do bring about fresh diplomatic push, migrants here in Turkey want to make sure that any talk of a safe zone is part of a Syrian political transition and not a solution to Europe's migrant crisis. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.