WFP chief says agency preparing for wave of Idlib refugees

FILE - In this Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018 file photo, fighters with the Free Syrian army eat in a cave where they live, on the outskirts of the northern town of Jisr al-Shughur, Syria, west of the city of Idlib. Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency news agency said Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, that Syrian rebels have finished withdrawing all their heavy weapons from the front lines in the northwestern province of Idlib. The move was part of a deal reached between Russia and Turkey to demilitarize the front lines between Syrian government forces and the opposition in and around the province. Idlib is the last major rebel stronghold in Syria. (Ugur Can/DHA via AP, File)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a military ceremony honoring new commandos, in Isparta, Turkey, Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. Erdogan is suggesting that Turkey's military could soon launch a new operation across the border into northern Syria, in zones held by Syrian Kurdish fighters. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

BRUSSELS — The U.N.'s World Food Program is preparing for a vast new wave of refugees likely to flee to Turkey if a looming conflict breaks out in Syria's flashpoint Idlib region, WFP Executive Director David Beasley said Friday.

Beasley told The Associated Press that the agency is "pre-positioning rations for short term, middle range, along the Turkish border."

He said the WFP is working with Turkish, Russian, Syrian, U.S. and other officials "to do what we can to minimize the impact when a war truly goes into full scale mode there."

For now, Turkey and Russia appear to have successfully created a demilitarized zone along Idlib's front lines, after rebels and an al-Qaida-linked alliance pulled back their heavy weapons.

The deal averted a government offensive on the last major opposition stronghold left after seven years of war, but Russian and Syrian officials say it's only a temporary agreement.

Over 10 million people in Syria suffer from hunger or are at risk of it. Turkey is already struggling to cope with some 3 million people who fled the war.

In Brussels for talks with senior European Union officials, Beasley said the bloc and its international partners could save both lives and money by helping to meet people's food needs now.

"It costs us about 50 cents per day to feed a Syrian inside Syria," he said. "But to support that same Syrian in Berlin or Brussels on humanitarian support is 50 euros ($58)."

"The Syrian wants to be home and so anything we can do to address food security is a win-win for everybody," Beasley added.

More than one million migrants, many fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq, entered the EU in 2015. The bloc has pledged at least 3 billion euros to Turkey to help Syrians there, in exchange for Ankara halting the flow of migrants into Europe.

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