Tens of thousands of Syrians flee Aleppo for Turkish border
Turkish forces seal border as aid workers describe panic of civilians fleeing bombs
Syrians fleeing the northern embattled city of Aleppo wait in Bab-Al Salama, next to the city of Azaz, northern Syria, near the Turkish crossing gate. Photograph: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images
Turkish forces held back the latest wave of refugees trying to escape the country’s five-year civil war, sealing the border gates to thousands of Syrians gathered there. Syrian opposition groups said about 30,000 to 40,000 people are on the move across Aleppo province after fleeing their homes.
Backed by intense Russian air strikes that have pounded Aleppo’s countryside in recent days, Mr Assad’s forces and allied militias are advancing on the northern province, which had been held since 2012 by rebels seeking to overthrow the regime. The offensive is aimed at encircling Aleppo, the opposition’s last stronghold in a major city.
Video from activists showed streams of people heading towards the border some with packs on their heads. “We have so many people coming into the area that we have completely abandoned any kind of co-ordination with military leaders and have to focus on humanitarian support – getting up tents and bringing in food,” said Munzer Sallal, the deputy governor of Aleppo. “It’s a nightmare.”
For the Turkish government, already hosting 2.5 million Syrian refugees, the thousands more massing at the border pose a dilemma. Under its agreement with the EU, Ankara is requiring Syrians to have a visa to enter Turkey, a reversal of the open door initiative that has made it the largest recipient of Syrian refugees.
“This is a huge number of people, and taking them all into Turkey at the same time will create a security problem for Turkey and for Europe as well,” said Ali Sahin, the deputy minister for European affairs, who said the number of potential new refugees was expected to grow to 100,000.
Turkey’s disaster management authority, AFAD, said it had mobilised resources to assist refugees. But Syrian opposition leaders said Turkish officials told them they would not open the border gates, fearing that most of Aleppo’s panicked residents would enter. Aid workers say the opposition-held districts of Aleppo city alone, excluding the countryside, could have up to 500,000 residents.
Widespread panic Aid workers inside Syria described widespread panic as civilians fled. Refugees are not only fleeing Aleppo but also the northern areas of nearby Homs province, which has also faced intense shelling.
“I fled northern Homs . . . we were shelled, so we went to al-Bab. Then we got hit there, so we left and went to Marea. Then we got shelled there,” one man at the Turkish border gate said in a video interview.
International humanitarian agencies said they are worried regime forces may impose a siege on Aleppo.
German chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to visit Turkey on Monday for the second time in four months to further hammer out the details of an agreement giving Ankara billions of euros in aid in exchange for helping stem the flow of refugees into Europe.
– (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016)