EU urges Turkey to allow Syrian refugees over border

EU urges Turkey to allow Syrian refugees over border
Europe is putting pressure on Ankara to allow a new wave of 70,000 Syrian refugees into the country, after Russian bombing and fighting in Aleppo forced them from their homes.
4 min read
07 February, 2016
Syrians fleeing Aleppo are waiting in tents opposite the Turkish province of Kilis [Anadolu]
EU officials have urged Turkey to allow tens of thousands of Syrian refugees stranded on its southern-border into the country.

As many as 35,000 Syrians have massed on the closed Turkish border while another 70,000 are heading north.

They fled after intense Russian air raids and a regime offensive in and around Aleppo.

At a meeting in Amsterdam on Saturday between EU foreign ministers and their Turkish counterpart, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini urged Turkey to open its borders to "Syrians in need for international protection".

It is Turkey's "moral and legal duty" to help the stranded refugees and the EU has for its part provided Turkey with the "means, the instruments, the resources to protect and to host people that are seeking asylum", Mogherini added.

But the Turkish Foreign Minister, whose country already hosts more than 2.5 million refugees, said Turkey is maintaining its "open-door" policy for those in need.

It is Turkey's moral and legal duty to help the stranded refugees
- Federica Mogherini 

Turkey has an "open border policy for these people fleeing from the aggression of the (Syrian) regime as well as airstrikes of Russia", Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday.

Turkey has already let in more than 5,000 recently displaced Syrians, Cavusoglu added.

Refugees are receiving food and shelter along the border areas - inside Syria - and there is no need to allow them to cross for the time being, Turkish officials said.

Read also: The human cost of the Aleppo offensive

Turkey will provide aid to the displaced within Syria, but would only open the gates in the event of an "extraordinary crisis", said Suleyman Tapsiz, the governor of the Turkish border province of Kilis.

What you need to know about the Russian – Syrian regime assault on Aleppo

Syrian opposition calls on UN to condemn Russian aggression
Kerry: Russia must stop bombing women, children in Syria
Thousands more Syrians rush toward Turkey to flee fighting
The human cost of the Aleppo offensive
Tens of thousands flee Syria regime advance near Aleppo
Rebels in Aleppo 'encircled and cut-off' by regime forces

But that is not enough for the EU.

"I look at these images of people standing at the Turkish border and I just wanted to underline the message [that] people who are in humanitarian need should be allowed in," said the Dutch foreign minister, Bert Koenders, whose country currently holds the EU presidency.

Meanwhile, large groups of refugees fleeing the fighting have also made their way to informal camps alongside the Turkish border and in the Kurdish-enclave of Afrin nearby.

The Norwegian Refugee Council [NRC] said thousands of Syrians have arrived at seven informal camps close to the Turkish border.

Refugee families are being forced to sleep out in the open, some under trees, because they could not find shelter, said Filip Lozinski, an NRC supervisor in the area.

Other refugees have arrived in Afrin, a Kurdish enclave north of Aleppo controlled by the YPG-militia, said a Kurdish official, Idris Naasan.

Refugee families are being forced to sleep out in the open, some under trees, because they could not find shelter
- The Norwegian Refugee Council

The militia hoped to prevent a humanitarian disaster and help those stuck at the border, Naasan said.

Fighting in Aleppo intensifies

Meanwhile Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces continue to make major gains across the country, including both in the northern city of Aleppo and southern Daraa city.

Backed by more than 900 Russian airstrikes in the last week alone, regime forces are on the cusp of encircling rebel-controlled areas of Aleppo.

Advances by Assad forces have led them to make gains in the countryside north of the city and cut off the oppositions main supply routes to Turkey.

The regime's assault around Aleppo has brought the UN-brokered Geneva Syria peace talks to a complete standstill earlier this week.

US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Russia to stop its bombing campaign on Friday, stating that there is evidence that Russia is using "dumb bombs" in Syria to kill as many civilians as possible.

The city of Aleppo, once the commercial hub of Syria, would be the biggest strategic gain in years for Assad's forces who are fighting a conflict that has killed over 260,000 people and driven 11 million from their homes.