Last week, ISIS fighters attacked the Kurdish town of Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, in northern Syria, causing Kobani’s residents to flee towards the nearby Turkish border. Turkey’s initial response was to close the crossing points with Syria saying that humanitarian aid would be provided on the Syrian side of the border. On Friday 19 September, Turkey opened a 30 kilometre section of the border with Syria and hundreds of thousands of Syrian Kurd refugees started crossing into Turkey. However, since Monday 20 September, Turkey has kept only two crossing points open out of nine, as reported by UNHCR. Up until 25 September, 144,000 Syrian refugees, mainly Kurds, have sought refuge in southern Turkey; 80% of the refugees are women and children and the remaining 20% are elderly or disabled. Carol Batchelor, the Turkey representative for UNHCR, said “I don’t think in the last three and a half years we have seen 100,000 cross in two days,” according to Reuters.

The Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly and Mülteci-Der, Turkish NGOs and ECRE members, have criticized that Turkey’s initial response to the arrival of the refugees was to seal off the crossing points with Syria. “Turkey’s decision to allow the arrival of this massive latest wave of Kurdish refugees from Syria 19 September onward was preceded by days of hesitation on the part of the Turkish Government and an effective blockade on crossings by Turkish border units. It appears that earlier the same week, Turkey’s new Prime Minister Davutoglu issued instructions for the sealing of the entire Syria and Iraq border stretch before he changed his mind and Kurdish refugees were allowed to cross”, stated Oktay Durukan of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly. “We are pleased that Turkey has now opened the border as it should, but have concerns that opening border to people fleeing war and persecution cannot depend on daily decisions. There must be complete protection for refugees governed by a legal framework respecting human rights and dignity”, stated Piril Ercoban of Mülteci-Der.

Acknowledging the vital role that Turkey and the broader region are assuming by hosting the vast majority of the refugees fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq, the NGOs underine that all States must maintain an open-border policy and call on the European and international community to also play their part by admitting more refugees through resettlement and humanitarian admission.

“During the Syrian crisis for the last four years and the recent ones in Iraq and Syria, almost all the responsibility of the humanitarian response has been left to the neighbouring countries. Many countries, including European States are doing very little to deal with the plight of refugees. Just 35,000 places have been provided in response to UNHCR’s call for more resettlement from the neighbouring countries. This is indeed amazingly little while there are millions of refugees in the region. While the number of refugees and the need for international solidarity are rising, the neighbouring countries and refugees are increasingly left alone in this grave humanitarian crisis”, stated Ercoban.

“While it is absolutely clear that Turkey needs dramatically more European and international solidarity to help cope with the humanitarian needs of a 1.5 million strong refugee influx, Turkey must not resort to non-arrival measures as the security situation on both the Syria and Iraq sides of the border continues to deteriorate”, warns Durukan. “We are concerned that the rising pressures on Turkey’s resources and administrative capabilities, a growing anti-Syrian sentiment among the public at large and cross-border security considerations appear to have shaken the Government’s resolve on the ‘open borders’ policy to the brink.”


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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 26 September 2014. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.