Aid agencies warn of a “desperate situation” as tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing a Russian-backed government offensive in Aleppo, head to the Turkish border.
Although Turkey has sworn to help, it has yet to open its frontier at Oncupinar, leaving thousands stranded.
Russian-backed Syrian government forces say they are closing in on Aleppo city and have severed the main supply line used by the country’s mainstream rebels.
Rebel-held parts of the city now face the prospect of a government siege. The tactic has previously had a disastrous effect on former rebel strongholds.
The European Union is pressing Ankara to help curb the biggest flow of migrants the bloc has seen since the Second World War. However, it says Turkey must keep its borders open to refugees. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is holding talks in the Turkish capital on Monday (February 8) to push for tighter checks at the frontier.
The 28-member bloc has pledged three billion euros of aid in return for help in stemming the influx. Turkey currently hosts the biggest number of Syrian refugees — some 2.7 million — leading its Deputy Prime Minister to declare it has reached full capacity.
Numan Kurtulmus told the press:
“Turkey has reached the limit of its capacity to absorb the refugees.
“But in the end, these people have nowhere else to go. Either they will die beneath the bombings… or we will open our borders.”
“We are not in a position to tell them not to come. If we do, we would be abandoning them to their deaths.”
For now, the border is “open for emergency situations,” according to a Turkish official, who added that at least seven people have been taken to Turkish hospitals to receive treatment.
Pope Francis has called on the world “to spare no effort to urgently bring parties back to the negotiating table. He urged the international community to be generous to ensure the “survival and dignity” of displaced Syrians.
The country’s five-year civil war has displaced half of the population and claimed 260,000 lives.