Turkey bor­der cross­ing be­comes cen­tral hub in Aleppo evac­u­a­tion

Al­ready home to some three mil­lion refugees

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Clogged daily by dozens of aid trucks, a Turk­ish bor­der cross­ing has be­come a key hub in ef­forts to get help to those who have fled the dev­as­ta­tion in the war-rav­aged Syr­ian city of Aleppo. The Cilvegozu bor­der cross­ing in Turkey’s south­ern Hatay province just east of its main city An­takya is in a peace­ful area, with lit­tle sign of the hor­ror that lies just a few dozen kilo­me­ters be­yond to the south.

Al­ready home to some three mil­lion mainly Syr­ian refugees, Turkey has in re­cent months fo­cused ef­forts on look­ing af­ter vic­tims of the con­flict in­side Syria, rather than en­cour­ag­ing more to come in. But there is full mo­bi­liza­tion at the Cilvegozu cross­ing that faces Syria’s Bab Al-Hawa, with Turk­ish NGOs play­ing a key role in pil­ing aid for des­per­ate civil­ians from Aleppo evac­u­ated to the neigh­bor­ing Idlib province.

Every day, dozens of aid trucks from the Turk­ish Red Cres­cent and the Hu­man­i­tar­ian Re­lief Foun­da­tion (IHH) char­ity head into Syria, not to Aleppo it­self but to camps that are ac­com­mo­dat­ing thou­sands of peo­ple just in­side the bor­der. The Turk­ish Red Cres­cent has so far dis­patched 216 trucks and the IHH 381 trucks, all loaded with hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, since the start of the month.

‘80,000 per­son tent city’

“I have come all the way from Konya” in cen­tral Ana­to­lia, a truck driver told AFP while wait­ing his turn to cross into the buf­fer zone. “I am car­ry­ing food, baby di­a­pers and clothes to be de­liv­ered for Syr­i­ans,” he said. Turkey has also stepped up ef­forts to set up a huge “tent city” in Idlib province to ac­com­mo­date up to 80,000 Syr­ian refugees flee­ing Aleppo. Ac­cord­ing to Turk­ish of­fi­cials, three pos­si­ble sites have been iden­ti­fied in Idlib province.

“We are ready for any sce­nario,” said a Turk­ish of­fi­cial. “Turkey in the past man­aged such hu­man­i­tar­ian op­er­a­tions with suc­cess. There’s no prob­lem there.” While Turkey is clearly keen to en­sure most Syr­i­ans stay on their side of the bor­der, it is also set­ting up a smaller 1,000-per­son tent city-the pre­ferred of­fi­cial term rather than refugee camp-in its bor­der town of Rey­hanli. This will house “dis­ad­van­taged Syr­i­ans” in­clud­ing the in­jured, the dis­abled and their fam­i­lies.

Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan since the start of the Syr­ian civil war cham­pi­oned an “open door” pol­icy to al­low all Syr­i­ans in­side the coun­try. But in prac­tice, ac­cess has now be­come much harder with Ankara pre­fer­ring to see Syr­i­ans looked af­ter in­side Syria. One of the aims of Turkey’s on­go­ing mil­i­tary in­cur­sion in­side Syria is to cre­ate a “safe area” that could house Syr­ian refugees. Heav­ily in­jured are nonethe­less be­ing trans­ferred into Turk­ish hos­pi­tals for treat­ment.

‘De­mand­ing job’

Since the evac­u­a­tions be­gan last week, 131 in­jured Aleppo peo­ple — 46 of them chil­dren-have been taken to Turkey yes­ter­day morn­ing, a Turk­ish of­fi­cial told AFP. Five of them have died in hospi­tal. Funeral cars from Turkey have also been seen bring­ing the dead back to the Turk­ish bor­der. A vo­cal critic of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad’s regime, Turkey has cham­pi­oned it­self as the bro­ker with Rus­sia of a cease­fire deal open­ing the way for civil­ians and rebel fight­ers to be evac­u­ated from eastern sec­tions of di­vided city of Aleppo in a stut­ter­ing but on­go­ing process.

Turk­ish trucks can­not cross into Syria di­rectly but load their hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to Syr­ian trucks on the bor­der, IHH’s board mem­ber Izzet Sahin said. “This is a de­mand­ing job,” Sahin told AFP at the NGO’s lo­gis­tics cen­tre at Bab Al-Hawa around 1 kilo­me­ter from the Turk­ish bor­der. “The cross­ing of Turk­ish trucks into the Syr­ian ter­ri­tory is still con­sid­ered a se­cu­rity prob­lem,” he said.

On Satur­day, thou­sands ar­rived in bus and car con­voys from across the coun­try un­der the slo­gan “Open Road to Aleppo” close to the bor­der gate. The IHH, a pro-gov­ern­ment Is­lamic char­ity, is play­ing a large role in the trans­port of aid for Aleppo and press­ing for greater ac­cess. It gained in­ter­na­tional promi­nence in 2010 when a ship it had char­tered to break the block­ade in Gaza was stormed by Is­raeli com­man­dos in a raid that left 10 Turks dead and caused a cri­sis in re­la­tions that has only just been healed. —AFP

RASHIDIN: A young Syr­ian child evac­u­ated from the em­bat­tled Syr­ian city of Aleppo dur­ing the cease­fire ar­rives at a refugee camp. —AFP

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