ISTANBUL: The number of Syrians fleeing attacks in the country’s northwestern Idlib province and heading toward Turkey has reached 120,000, a Turkish aid group said on Monday, adding it was setting up a camp for some of those uprooted.
Syrian and Russian forces have recently intensified their bombardment of targets in Idlib, which Syria’s President Bashar Assad has vowed to recapture, prompting a wave of refugees toward Turkey.
President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday Turkey cannot handle a fresh wave of migrants, warning that European countries will feel the impact of such an influx if violence in Syria’s northwest is not stopped.
“In the last week, the number of people fleeing from the southern regions (of Idlib) to the north because of the increasing attacks has reached 120,000,” said Selim Tosun, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation’s (IHH) media adviser in Syria.
Erdogan said on Sunday 80,000 people were currently on the move. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said 40,000 civilians had been displaced since Thursday, the start of the latest military operation.
Many of the migrants fled the city of Maraat Al-Numan, with some going to camps near the Turkish border, while others have gone to stay with relatives or to the areas of Afrin and Azaz near the Turkish border, the IHH’s Tosun said.
The IHH said it had begun distributing 20,000 packages of food prepared for the migrants between the city of Idlib and the town of Sarmada. It was also preparing a tent camp in the area of Killi, a village some 13 km from the Turkish border.
Tosun said the camp for families will have 500 tents and can expand.
Turkey currently hosts some 3.7 million displaced Syrians, the largest refugee population in the world, after 8-1/2 years of civil war in Syria. Ankara fears another wave from the Idlib region, where up to 3 million Syrians live in the last significant rebel-held swathe of territory.
A Turkish delegation was traveling to Moscow on Monday for talks which were expected to focus in part on Syria and which Erdogan had said would determine Turkey’s course of action in the region.
Turkey has backed Syrian insurgents fighting to oust Assad in the war, while Russia and Iran support his regime’s forces.
Meanwhile, China has hit back at the US for criticizing its blocking of a UN Security Council resolution over civilian aid, accusing Washington of “politicizing humanitarian issues.”
On Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described as “shameful” Russia and China blocking the UN resolution, which would have extended for a year cross-border humanitarian aid to four million Syrians.
“To Russia and China, who have chosen to make a political statement by opposing this resolution, you have blood on your hands,” Pompeo said in a statement.
China reacted angrily on Monday, saying it voted on the basis of “right and wrong.”
“We firmly reject the unjustifiable accusations made by the US side on China’s voting position,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing in Beijing.
Geng said the US was “politicizing humanitarian issues” and “pursuing a typical double standard.”
Humanitarian aid currently flows into Syria through UN-designated checkpoints in Turkey and Iraq without the formal permission of the regime in Damascus, but that authority is due to expire on Jan. 10.
Germany, Belgium and Kuwait presented a resolution extending that authority for a year, winning the support of 13 council members but drawing the vetoes of Russia and China.
A competing Russian resolution would have granted a six-month extension while reducing the number of UN crossing points, but it failed to get the minimum nine votes.
Russia — an ally and major supporter of Syrian leader Bashar Assad — has used its veto 14 times on Syrian issues since civil war broke out there in 2011.
The resolution failed as tens of thousands of civilians have been fleeing the northwestern Idlib region amid heavy bombardments by Assad’s Russian-backed government, in the last bastion of the radical groups.