Turkey sees new refugee influx with ISIL at border
AKÇAKALE, ŞanlıurfaTurkey has received a new wave of refugees from Syria amid intensified clashes across the border, as tension rose at the Akçakale border gate in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa due to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants reportedly blocking the newcomers.
Local authorities agreed on June 14 to allow refugees to cross the border into Turkey as clashes intensified and thousands rushed to the border.
In a meeting held between local authorities and military officials in southeastern Turkey, it was decided to open the borders to incoming Syrians as mortar fire and artillery shelling escalated to threaten civilian lives in ISIL-controlled Tel Abyad. Reports indicate that the local authorities’ decision was conveyed to the capital Ankara.
The move came just before, according to Hürriyet, ISIL decided not to let Syrians cross into Turkey through the border gate.
After the decision was taken, Turkish soldiers massed at the Akçakale gate to prevent a rush across the border. Thousands of refugees were waiting along the border but none had been allowed to cross from June 10.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said earlier last week that Syrians would be redirected towards safe areas within their region, as “there is no longer a humanitarian tragedy.” His words reflected a basic change in Turkey’s strategy, but the government has emphasized that this does not mean an end to the “open-door” policy.
However, clashes intensified on June 13 as Kurdish fighters made significant progress, advancing to the outskirts of Tel Abyad, a strategic town serving as ISIL’s cross-border supply route from Turkey to its stronghold Raqqa.
Speaking to Agence France-Presse (AFP), the head of the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, claimed that the YPG seized 20 villages as ISIL militants retreated.
“Kurdish forces are on the eastern outskirts of Tel Abyad, only five kilometers from the town,” he said.
In the meantime, agency shootings from June 13 demonstrated the presence of ISIL militants on the Syrian side of the border alongside the refugees.
Reports indicate the jihadist militants had tried to steer the refugees towards Te Abyad but failed.
An estimated 3,000 to 5,000 refugees were waiting along the Turkish border.
It is reported that all refugees will go through an extensive security check prior to being admitted.
Violence has been escalating in northern Syria since the coalition led by the United States started to launch heavy airstrikes on May 12-13 in order to support the advance of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) against ISIL.
Turkish security forces used water cannon and fired warning shots June 14 to push Syrians back from the frontier, AFP said.
Most of the women arriving from the ISIL-controlled town were clad in black with full face veils. Many carried white sacks of possessions on their head.
On the evening of June 13 several figures - apparently ISIL fighters - dressed in battle clothing and carrying rifles came up to the fence on the Syrian side of the border, as Turkish soldiers eyed them nervously from the other side.
The bearded fighters encouraged the Syrians at the border fence to return to Tel Abyad. Some started to move back in the direction of the town.
But by late evening it appeared that all the Syrians had moved back to the border fence to spend the night.
Under an “open-door” policy championed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has taken in 1.8 million Syrian refugees since the conflict in Syria erupted in 2011.