Refugees mass at Turkey’s border as Syria fighting escalates

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Thousands of migrants and refugees have massed at Turkey‘s western frontier Sunday (local time), trying to enter Greece by land and sea after Turkey said its borders were open to those hoping to head to Europe.
In Syria, Turkish troops shot down two Syrian warplanes after the Syrian military downed a Turkish drone, a major escalation in the direct conflict between Syrian and Turkish forces.
Turkey’s decision to ease border restrictions came amid a Russia-backed Syrian government offensive into Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.
Refugees wait in front of the Greek border at Pazarkule gate, in Edirne, Turkey. (EPA)
That offensive has killed dozens of Turkish troops and led to a surge of nearly a million Syrian civilians fleeing the fighting toward Turkey’s sealed border.
Turkey backs the Syrian rebels fighting in Idlib province, and has sent thousands of troops into the area. Idlib is the last opposition-held stronghold in Syria, and is dominated by al-Qaida linked fighters.
A Turkish official said the fighting in Idlib was directly linked to Turkey’s decision to open the gates for refugees to Europe.
He said Ankara had changed its focus to preparing for the possibility of new arrivals from Syria “instead of preventing refugees who intend to migrate to Europe”.

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“Europe and others must take robust action to address this monumental challenge,” Fahrettin Altun, the communications director for Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said.
A group of migrants using a small boat attempts to cross the Meric (Evros) River to enter Greek territory, at the Turkish-Greek border, in Edirne, Turkey. (EPA)
“We can’t be expected to do this on our own.”
Erdogan’s decision to declare his country’s borders with Europe open made good on a longstanding threat to let refugees into the continent.
His announcement marked a dramatic departure from the current policy and an apparent attempt to pressure Europe into offering Turkey more support in dealing with the fallout from the Syrian war to its south.
Under a six billion euro deal in 2016, Turkey agreed to stem the tide of refugees to Europe in return for financial aid, after more than a million people entered Europe in 2015.
It has since accused the EU of failing to honour the agreement, and Erdogan has frequently threatened to allow refugees and migrants to head to Europe unless more international support was provided.
Thousands of migrants and refugees have massed at Turkey’s western frontier Sunday (local time), trying to enter Greece by land and sea after Turkey said its borders were open to those hoping to head to Europe. (EPA)
Turkey already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, as well as others from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Article was reproduced with permission from AP