Tens of thousands of Syrians have been forced to escape Aleppo, the largest city in Syria before the war, following an offensive of regime forces and their allies on the ground and supported by Russian bombers in the air. The coordinated attack is focused on the eastern half of the city, which is still held by a coalition of rebel groups. While about 320,000 people are still believed to be in the city under continual bombardment, tens of thousands are gathered at Turkey’s Oncupinar border crossing, which remained closed on Sunday (7 February).
Although Turkey pledged to help the new wave of refugees, it had not opened the border for three consecutive days. The country’s Deputy Prime Minister, Numan Kurtulmus, said that “Turkey has reached the limit of its capacity to absorb the refugees” but “in the end, these people have nowhere else to go. Either they will die beneath the bombings… or we will open our borders.” The European Union has reminded Ankara that it has a legal duty for non-refoulement, to protect migrants in need of international protection, despite the fact that Brussels is concurrently trying to tame the largest influx of migrants into the bloc since World War II.
The EU has provided Ankara with €3 billion in aid in return for its help in stopping the flow of new arrivals on its shores but EU’s Frederica Mogherini reiterated that the money is provided precisely for the purpose of non-refoulement. “It is unquestionable that people coming from inside Syria are Syrians in need of international protection”, Mrs Mogherini stressed. German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara yesterday (8 February) to discuss the looming humanitarian catastrophe. The United Nations estimated on Friday (6 February) that around 40,000 people have already been displaced by the Aleppo siege.