ABOUT 130,000 Syrian refugees fleeing the advance of Islamic State militants have crossed the border into Turkey in the past four days, Turkey’s deputy prime minister said yesterday, warning that the number could rise further as the militants continue their onslaught.
Numan Kurtulmus warned that the number could rise to become “a refugee wave that can be expressed [in] hundreds of thousands”.
The refugees have been flooding into Turkey since Thursday, escaping an Islamic State offensive that has pushed the conflict close to the Turkish border. The conflict in Syria had already seen more than a million people flee across the border in the past three years.
“This is not a natural disaster… What we are faced with is a man-made disaster,” said Mr Kurtulmus, adding that Turkey was taking measures to prepare.
“We don’t know how many more villages may be raided, how many more people may be forced to seek refuge.
“An uncontrollable force at the other side of the border is attacking civilians. The extent of the disaster is worse than a natural disaster.”
The situation has raised tensions between Turkish authorities and Kurds in the country, who claim the government is hampering their efforts to help their brethren in Syria.
New clashes erupted along the border gate near the town of Suruc yesterday, with police firing tear gas and water cannon to disperse Kurds protesting against the Turkish government and demanding to reach Syria.
Suruc itself was flooded with refugees and armoured military vehicles.
Islamic State has in recent days advanced into Kurdish regions of Syria that border Turkey, where refugees fleeing on Sunday reported atrocities that included stonings, beheadings and the torching of homes.
On Saturday, Turkey secured the release of 49 hostages who were held by the group for more than three months.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday that the United States now expects Turkey to step up in the fight against the militants.
Turkey had previously been reluctant to take part in international efforts against the group, citing the safety of its citizens who were captured when the group overran the Iraqi city of Mosul in June.
Officials have refused to reveal how Turkey managed to secure the release of the hostages.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denied paying a ransom, but has been vague on whether there was a prisoner swap.
Yesterday, fighting between Kurdish fighters and the militants raged on near the northern city of Kobani, which is also known as Ayn Arab, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Observatory said the militants have lost at least 21 fighters since Sunday night, most of them on the southern outskirts of Kobani.
Nawaf Khalil, a spokesman for Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party, said that the situation on the ground “is better than before”.
He added that the main Kurdish force in Syria, known as the People’s Protection Units, had pushed IS fighters about six miles away from their previous positions east of Kobani.
“We will fight until the last gunman in Kobani,” Mr Khalil said.