Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have gathered near a border crossing with Turkey after fleeing a major government offensive on rebel-held areas in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday that his country would keep its “open border policy” for the refugees, adding that 5,000 of them have already been allowed into Turkey.
“Another 50,000 to 55,000 are on their way and we cannot leave them there,” he said from the Dutch capital, Amsterdam, after holding talks with EU counterparts.
Our doors are not closed, but at the moment there is no need to host such people inside our borders.
However, the governor of the Turkish province of Kilis, on the border with Syria, said thousands of Syrian refugees arrived at the Turkish border near Kilis City in the last 48 hours and were being accommodated at camps on the Syrian side of the border.
Suleyman Tapsiz also told reporters at the Oncupinar border crossing near Kilis that another 70,000 Syrians could be expected if Russian air strikes and military advances by the Syrian government continued.
“Our doors are not closed, but at the moment there is no need to host such people inside our borders,” he told Associated Press news agency, adding that the refugees had been given food, blankets and tents.
The Syrian army, backed by Russian military support, is carrying out a major offensive that has sparked a severe humanitarian crisis in rebel-held areas of Aleppo.
The advance is the most significant outcome yet of the Russian intervention that began on September 30, that has targeted armed opposition groups.
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Kilis, said the number of refugees at the border was likely to increase.
“Already, thousands of people from the countryside have fled towards the Turkish border. Inside Aleppo City, what we understand from people we have been speaking to is that families are starting to pack up and leave. There is still no mass exodus, but people are scared. Some families are choosing to leave,” Khodr said.
“People are saying that prices are on the rise and that fuel is scarce. They are worried because the government has employed such tactics in the past; they lay sieges to towns and villages. Civilians and fighters starve, and in the end they have to surrender.
“We do not know the exact number of people who live in the rebel-controlled eastern districts of Aleppo City but some figures estimate between 200,000 and 300,000 people,” our correspondent added.
EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said foreign ministers had reminded Cavusoglu of Ankara’s international obligations towards refugees.
“We discussed this with our Turkish colleague remembering the fact that there is first a moral if not a legal duty … to protect those in need of international protection,” Mogherini told a news conference Saturday.
The UN said that a massive number of Syrian refugees were camped outside the Bab al-Salam border crossing, hoping to reach Turkey, which already hosts more than two million Syrian refugees.
Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) said it was finalising preparations for an influx.