KILIS // Turkey said on Sunday it has reached the end of its “capacity to absorb” refugees but will continue to take them as pressure mounted for Ankara to open its border to tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing a government onslaught.
Turkish authorities say up to 35,000 Syrians have massed along the border, which remained closed for a third day. The governor of the Turkish border province of Kilis said on Saturday that Turkey would provide aid to the displaced within Syria, but would only open the gates in the event of an “extraordinary crisis.”
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said Turkey is now hosting 3 million refugees, including 2.5 million Syrians.
“Turkey has reached the end of its capacity to absorb [refugees],” Mr Kurtulmus said. “But in the end, these people have nowhere else to go. Either they will die beneath the bombings and Turkey will ... watch the massacre like the rest of the world, or we will open our borders.”
Mr Kurtulmus said some 15,000 refugees from Syria were admitted in the past few days, without elaborating. He put the number of refugees being cared for on the other side of the border at 30,000.
He did not explain why the Turkish border gate at Oncupinar, opposite the Bab Al Salameh crossing in Syria, was being kept closed or why tens of thousands of refugees were not immediately being let in.
In Syria, pro-government forces pressed ahead with their offensive in the northern Aleppo province, which has caused the massive displacement of civilians toward the Turkish border. Opposition activists said Syrian ground troops backed by Russian air strikes were engaged in intense fighting with insurgents around the village of Ratyan and surrounding areas north of Aleppo city.
The army has almost fully encircled Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and one-time commercial centre, preparing the way for a blockade. The main supply line to the Turkish border has already been cut and many residents of the city were looking to leave, anticipating severe shortages in coming days.
Dr Ahmad Abdelaziz, of the Syrian American Medical Society said there were only four general surgeons for the entire city.
“The people there are very worried there could be a siege at any time. We expect a lot of people to get out of the city if the situation remains like this, if there is no improvement,” he said.
Dr Abdelaziz described a dire scene at the border and said it was difficult to get medicine to the people gathered there.
“There are so many old people and children in the cold weather ... They are surrounded by ISIL from the east, the regime from the south and Kurdish forces from the west,” he said.
On Saturday, the European Union urged Turkey to open its borders, saying it was providing aid to Ankara for that purpose. EU nations have committed €3 billion (Dh12.3bn) to Turkey to help refugees, part of incentives aimed at persuading Turkey to do more to stop thousands of migrants from leaving for Greece.
Mr Kurtulmus estimated that “in the worst case scenario” as many as 1 million more refugees could flee Aleppo and surrounding areas.