View from the Turkish border town where refugees sleep in streets


September 23, 2014

September 23, 2014

A major Islamic State offensive against the Kurdish-majority city of Ain al-Arab in northern Aleppo on Thursday sent thousands of Syrians fleeing into Turkey.

Since then, the PYD – the politically and militarily dominant Kurdish group in Syria – has stymied IS’s advance on Ain al-Arab, also known as Kobani in Kurdish, reportedly with the help of PKK-affiliated fighters arriving from Turkey.

Meanwhile, more than 138,000 Syrians, mainly ethnic Kurds, have crossed into Turkey, reported UNHCR Tuesday. Only 10 percent of residents have stayed in the Ain al-Arab area, according to Kurdish news agency Rudaw.

Prior to last week’s attack, at least 200,000 Syrians from Aleppo and Al-Hasakah had taken refuge there.

The refugees are caught in a political maze between regional actors who have a long history with the Kurds, says Baz Ali Bkari, a Syrian journalist who lives on the Turkish side of the border.

“The situation is not only a fight between two military groups: it is political game with different messages for regional countries.” the ethnically Kurdish journalist who also works with the Syrian National Coalition tells Syria Direct’s Mohammad al-Haj Ali.

Q: Did the Turkish government create new camps for the Syrian refugees?

No. Some local Kurdish committees in the city of Suruc near the border crossing set up tents, but it has not been enough for the number of refugees. Most are living in the parks and streets of the city.

Kobani3 UNHCR says 138,000 Syrians have fled to Turkey this week. Photo courtesy of @arabthomness

Q: What is the humanitarian situation for the refugees now?

They sleep in the streets and the aid delivered is not enough. We can say it is a disaster.

Q: Who is providing aid to the refugees? Are there any Kurdish organizations?

The Syrian Coalition delivered aid as well as some local Turkish organizations. The Democratic Council, a Kurdish organization, is giving aid to the refugees too.

Q: Do you know anything about the civilians’ situation inside Kobani?

I met many refugees that came from Kobani. The situation inside Kobani is calm, there is no fighting inside the city. Kobani is almost empty and no people are there.

The refugees told us that YPG forces [the military branch of the PYD] are asking people to evacuate the city, but they keep the young men who can fight.

Q: How did Turkish government initially respond?

The Turkish government did not open the main crossing point near the Suruc border city. Instead, it opened two crossing points to the west and east of the main crossing point. There was not a specific procedure [for allowing Syrians in] when the government opened the two crossing point, the authorities only cut the wires on the fence. The Syrian refugees crossed the borders randomly under the supervision of the Turkish police.

Q: Why did the Turkish government refuse to let Syrian refugees enter Turkey, and then suddenly allow all of them in at once?

The government’s excuse was it was waiting for the orders from Ankara, in addition to coordinating with Syrian opposition councils [in Turkey].

There are also other reasons [the government refused] related to the general Kurdish situation, such as the attack on Kobani, battles in the Kurdish-majority province of Al-Hasakah and IS threats to attack the Kurdish city of Qamishli in Al-Hasakah. The situation is not only a fight between military groups: it is political game with different messages for regional countries.

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