New refugee camps have been set up in Syria by Turkish aid workers as tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing civil war remain stranded near the Turkish border, according to reports. Turkey reportedly said Sunday that it has reached the end of its "capacity to absorb" refugees but will continue to take them in.
Over 35,000 people have reportedly fled an offensive carried out by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, supported by Iranian and Lebanese Shiite militia. Turkey, which already shelters more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees, closed the border after Russia-backed government airstrikes targeted villages between Syria’s largest city Aleppo and the border crossing of Bab al-Salameh last week.
Aid officials at Turkey's Oncupinar border crossing told Reuters that they are focusing on getting aid to the camps on the Syrian side of the border.
"We're extending our efforts inside Syria to supply shelter, food and medical assistance to people," an anonymous official from the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, reportedly said. "We are already setting up another camp. At the moment all our preparations are to make sure these people are comfortable on the Syrian side of the border."
Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told CNN-Turk television Sunday that the country now has a total of 3 million refugees, including 2.5 million Syrians.
"Turkey has reached the end of its capacity to absorb [refugees]," Kurtulmus said, according to the Associated Press. "But in the end, these people have nowhere else to go. Either they will die beneath the bombings and Turkey will ... watch the massacre like the rest of the world, or we will open our borders."
Kurtulmus said some 15,000 refugees from Syria had been taken in by Turkey in the past few days. However, he did not explain why the Turkish border gate at Oncupinar, opposite the Bab al-Salameh crossing in Syria, was being kept closed despite several pleas from European Union leaders.
Kurtulmus estimated that "in the worst-case scenario" as many as 1 million more refugees could flee Aleppo and surrounding areas.
On Sunday, Pope Francis sent out a plea for aid to Syrians fleeing the five-year war.
“I am following with strong concern the dramatic fate of the civilian population caught up in the violent combat in Syria and forced to abandon everything to flee the horrors of the war,” Francis told a crowd in St. Peter’s Square, according to the Guardian.
About 4.6 million people have reportedly fled Syria since the civil war began in 2011. Another 13.5 million are said to be in need of humanitarian assistance inside the country as tensions escalate in the region.