Russia-U.S. talks on Syria do little to stem flow of refugees

Russia and the United States are preparing to discuss a new political settlement to end the war in Syria, but most Syrians are not betting on international diplomatic efforts to bring about a ceasefire.

'The world doesn't care about us': Syrian refugees doubtful about Russia-U.S. talks

Refugees from Syria stage a sit-in on Saturday at Istanbul's bus station, after the Turkish authorities refused to allow them to cross into Greece. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

Russia and the United States are preparing to discuss a new political settlement to end the war in Syria, but most Syrians are not betting on international diplomatic efforts to bring about a ceasefire.

They've seen too many previous attempts at negotiation fail.

"The world doesn't care about us. They only care about their own interests," said Abdul Khana'a, who recently left the Syrian city of Aleppo and is in Turkey seeking refuge from the war in Europe.

Russian combat aircraft and surface-to-air missiles have now arrived in Syria as Moscow seeks to bolster beleaguered Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

The Russians are also digging in, adding firepower in the fight against ISIS. The United States is concerned about the Russian military buildup in Latakia province, one of the few remaining areas of support for Assad.

Some refugees, such as those at this sit-in on Saturday at Istanbul's bus station, are becoming frustrated with government measures that are restricting their movement through Europe. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)
The Pentagon is worried about possible military confrontations between the Russians and the U.S.-led coalition that is bombing ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq. Canadian warplanes are taking part in that mission.

However, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he also sees the Russian escalation as an opportunity to once again seek a diplomatic solution to end the war, which has raged for four and a half years.

Kerry said the United States, "agreed completely on the urgency of nations coming together in order to resolve this war that has gone on for much too long."

Seeking safety

The prospect of more talks is not slowing the tide of Syrians who have decided to seek a safer existence outside of their country.

Tens of thousands have made their way to Europe in recent months, a wave of migration spurred by a realization that the fighting in Syria shows no sign of ending.

Residents of Aleppo and Homs told CBC News about the unending artillery and airstrikes by forces loyal to President Assad. Gun battles continue to spill out onto city streets across the country.

Syrian refugee Amar Aldoura has spent a week at Istanbul's main bus station, hoping to be allowed to cross at the Turkish land border with Greece. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)
ISIS controls large swaths of Syria, and the group's violent rampage across the country has sent many Syrians fleeing. Four million are living in refugee camps or rented apartments in the countries that border Syria: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

There are increasing challenges for those who have left Syria, too. Lebanon and Jordan have brought in border and employment restrictions that the refugees say have made it much more difficult to subsist.

Attitudes are changing, as well.

"When I first got to Turkey, they treated me well," said Amar Aldoura, a Syrian from Damascus who fled with his wife and baby son a year ago. Aldoura has been in Istanbul for about a month, hoping to gain access to Europe by crossing the land border with Greece.

"Now we are treated more badly," he said, adding that his family has been cursed at recently, and called "lazy Syrians" by a man at the Istanbul bus station where he's camped out.

Perilous journey

Even so, for many, conditions outside Syria are still preferable to those at home. With little hope that U.S.-Russian negotiations will result in peace, refugees continue to stream into Europe.

Afghan refugees call for help after their dinghy with a broken engine drifted out of control between the Greek island of Lesbos and the Turkish coast on Sept. 19. (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)
The journey by sea from Turkey to the Greek islands of Kos or Lesbos continues to be dangerous. Several boats and rubber dinghies capsized this week, and at least 13 people drowned on Sunday when their vessel collided with a ferry off the Turkish coast.

But winter is coming, and the trip will become even more treacherous when the weather changes. This may slow the tide of those trying to make it to Europe, but for those already on the move it's also increasing the urgency to reach a safe haven.

Many are aware that Canada has pledged to take in thousands of refugees.

"We are just as peaceful as the Canadian people. And as hard-working as the Canadian people. And we can mix in any society," said Amar Aldoura from Damascus.

Aldoura and other refugees camped out in Istanbul say they would welcome the chance be accepted by Canada. But they know the process is slow, and as winter approaches, Europe is their first choice.

"But we need to go now, before it's too late," Aldoura said.

About the Author

Derek Stoffel

World News Editor

Derek Stoffel is a former Middle East correspondent, who covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war. Based in Jerusalem for many years, he covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.

Derek Stoffel is reporting from Istanbul


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