ANKARA: Thousands of Syrian refugees are stuck on the Turkish border while the authorities struggle to process a growing influx that could be swelled further by Syrian air and ground bombardment of a nearby town.
Syrian opposition activists said some 10,000 refugees had been stranded for a week on the Syrian side of the frontier adjacent to the southeastern Turkish province of Kilis, the main route into Turkey from the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.
A Syrian jet bombed the town of Azaz, 3 km from the border, early Monday, prompting some of those who had not already fled to pack their bags, a Reuters witness said.
Azaz is notionally rebel-held but often comes under artillery fire at night from a nearby military airport. Half the population of around 70,000 have already fled, residents say.
“We haven’t stopped taking the Syrians but we are doing this more slowly due to security concerns ... Some people are entering Turkey then going back and coming back again,” an official from Turkey’s AFAD disaster agency told Reuters.
“We are trying to distribute aid to those on the other side of the border. On Saturday their numbers were around 7,000-8,000,” he said, asking not to be named.
Turkey already hosts over 80,000 Syrians who have fled the 17-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad and the U.N. refugee agency says the figure could reach 200,000.
Ankara fears a mass influx similar to the flight of half a million Iraqi Kurds into Turkey after the 1991 Gulf War.
Syrian opposition activists say bottlenecks at the Turkish border are discouraging people under fire from Assad’s forces in Aleppo and elsewhere from fleeing, leaving them in grave danger.
Turkey has repeatedly complained it is not receiving enough international assistance for the refugees and has pushed for the creation of a foreign-protected “safe zone” inside Syria to try to help civilians on the other side of the border.
The plan was met with little enthusiasm from world powers at a U.N. Security Council meeting Thursday.
Ankara will promote the idea again at the U.N. General Assembly this month but opposition from veto-wielding Russia and China means there is little chance of securing a Security Council mandate for such action, which would require no-fly zones patrolled by foreign aircraft to be credible.
In China, the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, said Monday the Turkish proposal would not help resolve Syria’s humanitarian crisis.
The head of the Turkish Red Crescent, Ahmet Lutfi Akar, last week endorsed the buffer zone idea and said the agency would in any case push more assistance to the Syrian side of the border.
“We are distributing aid through four transfer points at the moment. We can set up camps there or we can provide these services in their own homes. These options are being discussed.”