Turkey builds center for Syrian Kurds as refugee crisis deepens

The Turkish emergency and disaster agency has built a center in Suruc, just across the border from Kobani

Turkey builds center for Syrian Kurds as refugee crisis deepens

World Bulletin/News Desk

Shelter for some of the 160,000 refugees who have crossed from Syria into Turkey in the past ten days has been built by Turkey's emergency and disaster agency.

The agency, known as AFAD, set up temporary shelter in Suruc district of Sanliurfa province in Turkey’s south-east to house 3,000 Kurdish refugees. Others are being sheltered in public buildings such as schools and existing camps.

Mustafa Senturk, an AFAD official in Ankara, said the refugees were receiving water, food, beds and blankets at the center. He added: "AFAD primarily registers these refugees and allocates them tents at the center."

AFAD has around 2,200 workers in the region.

The refugees are from the area surrounding Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, and have fled attacks by the ISIL. 

Refugee crisis deepens

All that separates Mohammed Muslim from his village in Syria is a barbed wire fence running along the Turkish border, but the dull thud of artillery and the rattle of machinegun fire suggest he will not be going home anytime soon.

Muslim, dressed in a battered suit, his moustache flecked with grey, is among more than 150,000 Syrian Kurds who have fled to Turkey over the past week to escape the advance of ISIL militants, who have seized villages and beheaded residents as they push towards the strategic border town Kobani.

"I don't want to be in Turkey, I want to be in my village, I want to die in Kobani," Muslim said, running prayer beads through his hands as he watched Kurdish and ISIL fighters exchange fire in the valley below.

"If the war goes our way, then of course we'll go home, but it looks like it will be difficult."

Turkey, already home to an estimated 1.5 million refugees from Syria's civil war, is pushing the United States and its allies to create a safe haven for refugees inside Syrian territory. A safe haven along the border would require a no-fly zone policed by foreign jets.

President Tayyip Erdogan, until now reluctant to commit to a frontline military role in the U.S.-led campaign against ISIL, has said Turkish troops could be used to help set up such a zone.

The tens of thousands of refugees who have crossed the border in recent days may be in Turkey for a long time, aid workers say.

"You've seen it in other places along the border. There's no fighting anymore but people stay in Turkey," said Umit Algan, who runs the relief effort in the border town of Suruc for IMPR, a Turkish aid organisation.

"I think it'll be the same here, they never know when (ISIL) might come back," he said, adding that his group's initial relief effort aimed to help refugees camping out in mosques, schools and parks for a month only.

Livestock and vehicles

The United Nations, which has warned that as many as 400,000 people could flee Kobani to Turkey, has said that the number of displaced makes the influx from the besieged border town the most serious yet of Syria's civil war.

Many of those who have fled were from poor farming communities in the semi-arid terrain and were forced to leave their most valuable possessions behind - particularly livestock and vehicles.

"We have nothing here, nowhere to sleep. If they let us collect our cars, we can sleep in them," said one Syrian Kurdish refugee, 60-year old Hussein Kadir Cumo.

Small crowds of Syrian Kurds gathered at crossing points along the border to plead with Turkish officials to be allowed to go back and collect their possessions, their vehicles tantalizingly visible through the barbed wire fence.

A steady stream of new refugees kept arriving, many of them herding cattle.

Labour Minister Faruk Celik, who visited the border gate, was later quoted as saying the authorities would start to let livestock and vehicles cross.

Turkish military outposts occupy commanding positions on high ground along the border, the ISIL front lines clearly visible below them. Armoured military vehicles patrol the frontier, but Turkish guns have remained silent, with Ankara reluctant to be dragged into the war.

Cemile Gunay's son and daughter both left their home in Turkey's southeastern city of Mardin to fight against ISIL four months ago, and she has heard nothing from them since, except one brief glimpse in a TV news report.

"Sometimes I think if they just come close to the frontier I might catch a glimpse of them," she says, spending her night sleeping under small trees in a dusty field overlooking the border along with dozens of other Kurds.

"Of course it's difficult... When I hear the tank shells, it feels like my heart will explode. (But) it's an honour for me that they fight, an honour for the nation."

The main Kurdish armed group in northern Syria, the YPG, is a sister group of the PKK, which is considered a terrorist organisation by Ankara, the United States and European Union.

"It's very difficult for the Turkish army. ISIL are very dangerous," said one soldier patrolling the border, declining to be identified. "But YPG are very dangerous too."

Last Mod: 28 Eylül 2014, 16:02
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