Turkey is pondering whether to let in tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing a major Russian-backed regime offensive around Aleppo
Turkey is pondering whether to let in tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing a major Russian-backed regime offensive around Aleppo © Bulent Kilic - AFP
Turkey is pondering whether to let in tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing a major Russian-backed regime offensive around Aleppo
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Fulya Ozerkan, AFP
Last updated: January 1, 1970

Turkish border town fears fresh Syrian refugee influx

Outside a hospital in the Turkish border town of Kilis, a young nurse sums up the concerns of many residents about Syrian refugees. "I already feel I am not in Turkey," says Tugba Kaya.

"It's like Syria here. Every step you take in Kilis you come across a Syrian."

As Turkey ponders whether to let in tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing a major Russian-backed regime offensive around Aleppo, Kaya said she feared the consequences of yet another influx.

The town is the only major urban centre in Turkey with a majority of Syrians, and the feeling among many locals is that it can take no more.

"Life here would be paralysed in the face of a mass exodus," Kaya added.

Since the start of the Syrian civil war nearly five years ago, Turkey has become the biggest country for Syrian refugees, with more than 2.7 million on its soil.

Of those only 250,000 of them live in camps, with the rest in urban areas.

The latest wave of refugees -- including women and children -- has been massing at Syria's Bab al-Salama border crossing since Friday.

And with opposition forces and 350,000 civilians in rebel-held areas of the divided city of Aleppo facing a possible government siege, at least 70,000 more are expected to head to the border unless Damascus stops its assault.

- Unemployment and hunger -

The town of just under 100,000 lies five kilometres (three miles) north of the Turkey-Syria border, some 10 kilometres from the Syrian town of Azaz.

Turkish officials estimate that there are around 120,000 Syrians living in Kilis, about 34,000 in camps.

Resident Yasar Mavzer said the influx was having serious consequences for locals.

"Unemployment and hunger among the Turkish population of the town abound because of so many Syrians. Rents have skyrocketed," he said, angrily. "The state must take care of its people first."

The middle-aged man accused the Turkish government of forgetting its own people by taking in so many refugees.

"Everything is for Syrians. Jobs, houses... The people here are also human beings," he said. "It would be much better if Syrians were sheltered in a safe zone inside Syria, rather than in Turkey."

Mehmet Zeytcioglu, 50, owner of a grocery shop in Kilis, said the sheer number of Syrians was putting pressure on jobs.

"Our Kilis is a small town which is unable to bear such a large number of people," he said, adding: "Let Allah help them too."

Murat Erdogan, director of the Migration and Politics Research Centre at Ankara's Hacettepe University, told AFP Turkish residents' unease was "natural" and should be taken seriously.

Advantages, he said, included a revival in trade and jobs for locals at the camps, but he said there were also disadvantages.

"There are disruptions in municipal services and the number of crimes could increase if more Syrians flock to the town, testing the patience of locals," he said.

Residents are also concerned about security.

The town has been hit several times by shells fired from the Syrian side and the thud of explosions from the latest offensive can be felt in the town.

"I am very scared. I believe our lives are in danger," added Kaya.

- Court to coffee shop -

Syrians in the town, meanwhile, have tried to reclaim their lives, setting up their own shops and businesses.

Mohamad Hamidi, who was a lawyer in Syria, now runs a cafe in Kilis.

With Arabic music playing in the background, Hamidi said he had established a new life in the town and been made to feel welcome by locals.

"I was financially in a good state when I arrived in Turkey in 2013, so I rented this shop. I've been working here since then. I went from being a lawyer to a coffee shop employer," he told AFP.

"We are always in touch with Turkish people who always come to my cafe... Turkish people have received us Syrians well. They treat us better than Jordanian and Lebanese people."

But however welcoming Turkey may have been, it is still not home, according to Syrian mother Sabah Al-Ali.

Although grateful to Turkey for giving her a safe haven, she yearns for the day when she can return home to Aleppo.

"We are living here but it's not like we feel at home because our country is precious to us," she said.

"That is where our home is."

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