Days after closing the Syrian border crossing of Akcakale, announcing that there was no more humanitarian need to keep it open, thousands of refugees began bursting through the gate fleeing Islamic State violence, forcing the government to once again open their doors to migrants after taking in more than one million since 2012.
Rudaw reports that 2,500 refugees were estimated to be attempting to cross the border into Turkey on Monday, with 13,400 crossing over since June 1. The influx of refugees in the past 24 hours “took by surprise Turkish troops stationed there,” Rudaw states, noting that the soldiers were “overwhelmed” by the number of migrants tearing through the Akcakale gate. “Thousands of people had been gathering for more than a day on the Syrian side of the Akcakale border crossing before they broke through Sunday afternoon,” the report explains, “People threw their belongings over the fence while others passed infants into Turkey over barbed wire barricades before following through a several-meter wide opening in the border fence.”
The refugees are believed to mostly hail from Tel Abyad, a town in northern Syria close to the border in which Kurdish YPG forces have begun an intense offensive to rid the region of the Islamic State. The border town is highly significant to the battle between ISIS and secular Kurdish forces, as control of Tel Abyad would provide ISIS with a direct link between the Turkish border and Raqqa, the proclaimed “capital” of the Islamic State. Such a route would allow potential jihadists to reach ISIS leadership and travel to the front lines in Iraq much more quickly.
Turkey, which has taken in more than one million Syrian refugees and has become a launching pad for migrants seeking to enter the European Union via Greece, is feeling the strain of its new impoverished population. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu called an unplanned meeting with members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on Sunday, hoping to convince European leaders to take in some refugees or help Turkey handle the costs of maintaining this population.
“Turkey has spent more than $6 billion so far for refugees. The international community’s help is only $300 million. The burden must be shared,” he told those in attendance, according to state media outlet Andalou Agency. “They have no home to go back to,” he added, “There are around two million other refugees in countries like Jordan, Egypt Saudi Arabia and Lebanon and their conditions are worse than what they have in Turkey.”
On Friday, Turkish officials had announced that they would close the Akcakale border. “We are of the opinion that there isn’t a humanitarian tragedy there,” said Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus, adding that Turkey would continue to commit to providing humanitarian aid when needed but was trying to control the population flooding their border from Syria. Kurtulmus added then some reprimand towards Europe for calling for international aid “when just five refugees arrive at their borders” while Turkey continues to take in millions.