Turkey is putting all hands on deck to prepare for a possible cascade of refugees escaping from Syria’s violence by doubling the capacity of its border tent cities.
Turkey is working to increase the capacity of its camps to shelter Syrian refugees to a total of 100,000 in the following weeks. Five new shelter camps with a total capacity of 50,000 people are being built in cities in southern and southeastern Turkey.
The Öncüpınar border gate near the southern city of Kilis was silent and empty Aug. 1, while heavy clashes took place 50 kilometers away in the Syrian city of Aleppo. The Turkish government is preparing for a possible new wave of Syrian refugees, if the regime’s assault on Aleppo intensifies.
Syrians fleeing Aleppo have largely been escaping to rural areas of Syria, but if the Syrian regime defeats opposition forces and seizes control of Aleppo, these refugees will most likely end up at the Turkish border, a Turkish official told Hürriyet Daily News on Aug. 1. Additional camps are being built as a precaution in case of this kind of mass immigration, the official said.
The new shelter camps will be built in the Nizip and Karkamış districts of Gaziantep, the Akçakale district of Şanlıurfa, the Türkoğlu district of Kahramanmaraş and Osmaniye. The camps in Şanlıurfa and the Karkamış districts of Gaziantep are expected to be completed in the next three weeks.
There are currently eight container and shelter camps in Turkey, housing 44,000 Syrian refugees. With the new shelter camps, the total capacity for Syrian refugees in Turkish camps will be around 100,000.
Turkish tanks are currently waiting along the Turkish border in Kilis, while the Syrian side of the border is clear of any Syrian soldiers. The border area in Syria is completely under the control of soldiers from the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA). FSA flags were hanging at Syria’s Bab-es Selam border gate, just opposite the Turkish flags on the border.
The governor of Kilis, Yusuf Odabaşı, and Gaziantep Mayor Asım Güzelbey reportedly visited the border area for observations on Aug. 1. Odabaşı and Güzelbey crossed the border, briefly spoke with FSA rebels on the other side, and took pictures with them.
Military exercise on Syrian border
While preparations to accommodate those fleeing from violence in Syria are ongoing, Turkey has also increased its military mobility on the border. Military vehicles sent to the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa’s Suruç district have been placed along the Syrian border, Anatolia news agency reported. The vehicles, sent by Şanlıurfa’s 20th Armored Brigade Command, included tanks, launching pads, and an armored personnel carrier, and were deployed in the Mürşitpınar region on the Syrian border.
A military exercise with tanks was organized in Mardin’s Nusaybin district, two kilometers from the Syrian border, Doğan news agency reported. High-ranking commanders observed the exercise.
Nusaybin is opposite the Qamishli district in Syria, which is a heavily Kurdish area where Kurdish rebel groups have gained control. Twenty-five tanks belonging to Mardin’s 70th Mechanized Brigade Command took part in the exercise, held in a region opposite the Çağçağ Dam, which is also 2 kilometers from the Syrian border. The operation tested the speed and maneuvering skills of the tanks and their operators.
“This is an ordinary military exercise and will last for a few days,” Mardin Governor Turhan Ayvaz said, speaking to Anatolia news agency.