Monday, August 27, 2012

Thousands of Syrian refugees massed at Turkish border

AFP - Thousands of Syrian refugees were massed on the country's northwest border on Monday, as Turkey struggles to process and accomodate those fleeing the fighting in Syria. A Turkish official denied the border had been closed.

 Some 9,000 Syrian refugees have massed on the country's northwest border with Turkey, waiting for more camps to be set up to accommodate those fleeing the fighting in Syria, a Turkish diplomat told AFP on Monday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the diplomat said that "6,000 refugees are waiting on the Syrian side of the Oncupinar border crossing in Kilis province, and 3,000 others at border crossings into Hatay province."

Turkey has housed more than 80,000 refugees in camps along the border but these camps cannot take the new influx from the latest fighting.

"What's going on is not the closure of the border," another Turkish official told AFP. "This is not even under consideration."

"We are facing a large influx and the ID controls and security measures at the border are slowing the entries to a large extent," said the official.

The problem also stems from lack of space in Turkey to accomodate mass arrivals. The official said three more camps would be set up in Adiyaman, Gaziantep and Osmaniye provinces, further inside the country than hitherto, to shelter newcomers.

The exodus of refugees to Turkey has intensified this month as a result of a Syrian army offensive and fighting in the northern city of Aleppo.

Turkish authorities have been distributing aid to refugees who are waiting on Syrian soil to cross into Turkey.

The Turkish government had earlier said it could handle no more than 100,0000 Syrian refugees and proposed setting up a UN buffer zone inside Syria to shelter them.

Turkish officials refuse to speculate on closing the border if the number reaches the 100,000 threshold and instead urge the international community to share the burden.

The increasing flow of refugees has raised fears of a repeat of the 1991 Gulf War, when 500,000 Iraqi Kurds massed along Iraq's border with Turkey.