An estimated 70,000 Syrian refugees have fled the violence brought by extremist group ISIS this weekend, choosing to cross into Turkey carrying whatever belongings they can manage.
The rush of predominantly Kurdish refugees came as fighters loyal to ISIS seized dozens of villages in the area. While a U.N. agency reported about 70,000 refugees this weekend, a Turkish official says 100,000 Syrians have come to Turkey for shelter in the past week.
Reporting from the Syrian-Turkish border, NPR’s Deborah Amos says she saw many cars of Turkish relatives parked along the road as people waited for a sign of family members crossing over from Syria.
But many of the newly arrived people were left to fend for themselves, she says, as officials struggled to keep up with the influx of refugees. Tensions have also erupted between police and Kurds on both sides of the border, Deborah says.
She describes one bizarre scene, when a truck that seemed to be delivering water at the border instead began hitting cars that had people in them:
“At first, I just thought it was bringing water for refugees, but there were police officers in uniform in that truck, and it backed into cars — it started running over cars, ran over three cars with passengers in them. And the crowd started hurling rocks at the truck — broke the windshield. And there were more police who were coming to get their comrades out of what was chaos.”
Those tensions have risen as ISIS and its fighters have now advanced far enough in Syria to be within eyesight of the border with Turkey.
“People were fleeing in the thousands over 24 hours,” Deborah says, “so most of them are just standing around on the streets in clusters. You see families with their kids, their suitcases, their blankets… people really don’t know what to do. There is no mass aid operation here at all.”
Turkey opened its border this weekend, welcoming the refugees who had made a difficult crossing.
“We have been prepared for this,” disaster management agency spokesman Dogan Eskinat said, according to the AP. “We are also prepared for worse.”
The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, says Turkey is building two camps to house the refugees; thousands more Syrians are expected to arrive in coming days. The agency has also brought 20,000 blankets and other materials to the border.
Hundreds of Kurds who live in Turkey have crossed the border to try to help fight ISIS’s advance, Deborah Amos says. Citing Turkish journalists, she says that Kurds in Syria found themselves severely outgunned at Kobani, a town that the U.N. says had, until recently, served as a gathering point for refugees from other parts of Syria.
“ISIS came, surrounded this town of Kobani with tanks, and they have been shelling the town,” she says.
According to the BBC, other clashes broke out on the border, when Turkish police tried to keep Kurdish fighters from crossing.
“Turkish security forces have fired water cannon and tear gas at crowds which had gathered in support of Syrian Kurdish refugees on the border,” the organization reports. “Police said they wanted to stop Kurdish fighters entering Syria, the Associated Press reported, while local TV said Kurds had been trying to deliver aid.”