By Fatih Erel
The UN on Tuesday called on Turkey and EU states to take in the tens of thousands of civilians trying to escape the Russian-backed offensive in northern Syria.
William Spindler, spokesman for the UN’s refugee agency, acknowledged Turkey’s assistance to people caught up in renewed attacks by Syrian government forces supported by Russian airstrikes.
“Turkey has [...] been providing assistance inside Syria,” he said in a news conference in Geneva. “Turkey has also allowed a number of vulnerable and wounded people in Turkey. However, many people are not being allowed to cross the border. We are asking Turkey to open its border to all civilians from Syria who are fleeing danger, seeking international protection as they have done since the start of this crisis.”
Turkey is currently host to 2.5 million Syrian refugees, the world’s largest refugee population.
Spindler recognized the “huge burden” Turkey had shouldered and reiterated calls for the international community to assist, particularly for EU members to allow refugees to enter by land or air.
Spindler told Anadolu Agency correspondent: "We do not know how many more people will cross in Turkey. We know Turkey has been very generous for Syrian people."
"The capacity of Turkey to help and receive refugees is not unlimited. That is why we have been asking for international community to help Turkey. This means helping financially and also sharing some of the responsibility by taking some of the refugees who are now in Turkey," Spindler said.
The UNHCR has been asking the international community to help Turkey in order for Ankara to continue to take in more refugees, Spindler said.
Currently Syrian and other refugees are risking their lives on dangerous sea crossings to reach Greece. On Monday, 27 refugees, including 11 children, drowned as they tried to reach the Greek island of Lesbos from Turkey in the latest tragedy to hit the Aegean.
More than 30,000 people are trying to escape fighting in Aleppo province as Syrian government forces, also backed by Hezbollah and Iranian troops, push into opposition-controlled areas.
More than 250,000 people have been killed and more than 11 million displaced in Syria’s five-year civil war, according to the UN.