Aid crosses Turkish border, but Syrian refugees remain blocked
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A massive truck packed with construction material passes through the Oncupinar border from Turkey into Syria. But for the tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing a Russian military offensive near Aleppo, the border remains firmly closed.
Trucks such as these – many bearing food, medical and other humanitarian supplies – are the only ones allowed to cross the Turkey-Syria border for the moment.
Turkey, now home to more than 2 million Syrian refugees due to the country's brutal civil war, is struggling to cope as the displaced stream across its southern border.
“If the objective is to force people out of their homes, we might not have enough resources because the targeted areas are very populated,” explained Kerem Kinik, vice-president of the Turkish Red Crescent.
There are at least eight camps for Internally Displaced Persons (known as IDPs) on the Syrian side of the border. Another one is now being set up for those who fled their homes in the suburbs and countryside around Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city, where Russian bombers aiding Assad’s regime have been conducting a scorched earth offensive in recent days.
‘Let them in’
For Abduljawad al-Diki, a Syrian refugee on the Turkish side of the border worried sick about loved ones left behind in Syria, the camps are simply not enough.
“There are more than 60,000 people, including women and children [fleeing the Aleppo offensive]. They have managed to escape the bombs and now they are freezing to death. Let them in,” said a visibly agitated al-Diki.
Muhammed Wacih Cumaa, a Syrian opposition health official, is frustrated by the international failure to help the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “The Russian airstrikes have triggered this situation. The international community can stop this, but there is no will to do so," said Cumaa.
The latest Russian-backed Syrian government offensive amounts to one of the biggest shifts in momentum in the war that has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced millions.
Merkel ‘appalled’ by the suffering
During a visit to Turkey on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was "appalled" by the suffering of the people of Aleppo and firmly blamed the Russian bombing. Merkel said Turkey and Germany would push for all sides to adhere to a UN resolution passed in December that calls for an immediate halt to attacks on civilians in Syria.
But Merkel is also facing domestic pressure over the migrant crisis. In Ankara, Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced measures to try to tackle the crisis, including the possibility of Turkey's coast guard and the EU's Frontex border agency working more closely together.
Merkel said they would use an upcoming NATO defence ministers' meeting to discuss "to what extent NATO can be helpful with the surveillance situation at sea" and support the work of both the coast guard and Frontex.