Syria refugees stuck at Turkey border during Ramadan

Akçakale, Turkey // Refugees seeking to return to the Syrian town of Tal Abyad after fleeing fighting there last week were stuck on the Turkish side of the border on Thursday.

There were conflicting accounts over who closed the frontier.

Turkish authorities said refugees were not able to cross because Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia had closed the gate on the other side of the border.

But the YPG, who now control Tal Abyad, denied they were responsible for the border closure.

“From our point of view, the border is open ... It’s the Turks who closed the border from their side,” YPG spokesman Redur Khali said in Beirut, adding that people were continuing to return through unofficial crossing points.

Earlier this week the YPG ousted ISIL militants from Tal Abyad after fighting that prompted some 23,000 Syrian refugees to flee into Turkey.

Hundreds of Syrians returned home on Wednesday as calm returned to their hometown. But on Thursday, some 200 others were unable to cross the border.

A Turkish official said that while a total of 1,000 Syrians had returned home on Wednesday across the border, the YPG was not allowing any crossing on Thursday.

“The Turkish side has no objections” to opening the border, the official stressed.

“We haven’t closed the gate, but YPG has not been allowing anyone in as of today,” he said.

The refugees said they had been told the border would not open until Monday, which means they will miss celebrating the start of the holy month of Ramadan at home.

“Today we came to the gate hoping we can cross into Tal Abyad, I have been waiting since 7.00am in the morning but they are not letting us in,” said Emine, 60.

“If they have some mercy, they let us go back to our home. It’s Ramadan for god’s sake!”

Turkey, which has taken in some 1.8 million Syrian refugees since the conflict started in 2011, has complained that it has been left to shoulder an unfair burden.

But it has also been accused of letting ISIL fighters cross back and forth across its borders, allegations Ankara denies.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday held an unannounced meeting about the Syria crisis in Ankara with top officials, including foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and the head of Turkey’s emergency aid agency Fuat Oktay.

They discussed the latest influx of migrants into Turkey, the official Anatolia news agency reported.

Meanwhile, in the northern city Aleppo, eight people were killed by rebel fire, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

It was the latest in a spate of civilian deaths in government-held districts this week.

Since Monday, at least 63 civilians have been killed in government-held areas, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Activists said Syrian rebels advanced into a second government-held neighborhood in Aleppo on Thursday – a claim state television denied.

The reported push into the Khaldiyeh neighbourhood came a day after insurgents captured the eastern neighborhood of Rashideen from troops and pro-government gunmen.

President Bashar Assad’s forces have suffered a series of setbacks in recent months, including the loss of the provincial capital of Idlib in March.

* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press