Anxious wait in Turkey for Syrian relatives of refugees
Oncupinar (Turkey) (AFP)
Grappling with agonising uncertainty, Syrian refugees living in Turkey wait for news of relatives stuck on the Syrian side of the border after fleeing Russian and regime offensives in the Aleppo region.
The situation was calm on Friday at the Turkish border crossing of Oncupinar near Kilis, which faces the northwestern Syrian frontier post of Bab al-Salam.
But there was chaos on the Syrian side of the border as tens of thousands of people flee an upsurge in fighting in northern Aleppo province.
Up to 20,000 people have gathered at the Bab al-Salam crossing, according to the UN.
Throughout the day, ambulances were seen crossing into Syria to treat the injured, but the crossing was closed to all other traffic.
AFP pictures from the Syrian side of the border showed families carting bags massing near the border gate, with many parents carrying small children bundled up in hats and jackets against the cold.
"The logjam has begun, the refugees are on the road to Turkey," a Turkish official told AFP.
Near the border on the Turkish side dozens of Syrians sit on the pavement outside a vast refugee camp, anxiously awaiting news of relatives and friends.
Every so often the camp is rocked by the thud of explosions across the border.
"I am waiting for my family to enter Turkey. I don't know when they will cross the border," Abdullah told AFP.
The 30-year-old refugee said his wife was left behind with their three children at Bab al-Salam after her father, who was travelling with them, was taken into Turkey for emergency medical treatment.
"She called me from three different numbers." he said.
Um Khalid, a mother of three, tearfully begged for help for one of her sons who was stranded at Bab al-Salam after being hit by a sniper.
"I am communicating with him on the phone," she said. "I just want them to let him in."
Another Syrian woman said her children had been sleeping in the street next to the border gate for the past three days, after their house came under bombardment.
"They are in a sad situation," Um Sobhi told AFP. "We are still waiting to see if they can cross here."
Nearly five years after the war in Syria began, Turkey is already hosting at least 2.5 million refugees.
In an address to a donor conference in London, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Thursday up to 70,000 others were on the road north towards the border in search of safety.
Turkish authorities said they were working on contingency plans to handle a mass influx of refugees, including freeing up space within the existing camps to accomodate the new arrivals.
Ahmet Lutfi Akar, head of the Turkish Red Crescent, told AFP that the organization has sent water, food and mobile kitchens across the border to help those people waiting to cross into Turkey and also had teams, including medical staff, ready to assist them on arrival.
"We have been aiding them on the Syrian border for five years. This is nothing new but we are also readying for a new wave," he said.
© 2016 AFP