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The New Arab & agencies

Aid sent to Syrian refugees trapped on Turkish border

At least 11 migrants drowned Monday when their boat sank in the Aegean [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 8 February, 2016

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Humanitarian groups sent aid convoys into Syria for refugees stuck on the border with Turkey, as the German leader arrived in Ankara for talks on migrants on Monday.
Turkish humanitarian groups set up camps over the border in Syria on Monday, in a bid to assist thousands of refugees stranded on the border.

The groups said they have sent in truckloads of aid for the people fleeing a regime offensive in the northern Aleppo province, and heavy Russian bombing.

Turkey, which has long pushed for a safe zone on the border, has vowed to help an estimated 35,000 people massed on the frontier, many of them women and children.

But so far it has has kept the border closed despite warnings from aid groups of the desperate situation the Syrian refugees were facing.

"Turkey has reached the limit of its capacity to absorb the refugees," Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told CNN Turk television.

"But in the end, these people have nowhere else to go. Either they will die beneath the bombings... or we will open our borders."

Aid agencies have warned of a desperate situation among the crowds queuing in the cold and rain at Bab al-Salama frontier post

Many refugees are reportedly sleeping in fields and on roads, near Bab al-Salama frontier post, which faces Turkey's Oncupinar crossing, with camps set up on the Syrian side.

The Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, which is providing food for 20,000 refugees, said it had set up a new camp with a capacity of 10,000, in addition to eight it already operates near Bab al-Salama.

"Our operations are aimed at taking care of people inside Syria," Serkan Nergis, a spokesman for the foundation, told AFP by phone.

"The numbers could soar and we are looking at how we can provide shelter for Syrians in safe areas."

Despite already hosting over 2.5 million refugees from Syria's civil war.

Turkey has come under pressure to take in those fleeing the latest flurry of bombardments, while also being squeezed by European leaders to prevent those who cross over the border continuing on across the Mediterranean to Europe.

A Turkish official said the border crossing was open only "for emergency situations," adding that several injured people have been taken for treatment to Turkish hospitals.

Merkel holds talks in Ankara

Dozens of aid trucks were seen crossing into Syria on Monday, along with medical teams and ambulances.

Mohammad Rahma, a 15-year-old who was blinded in a Russian air strike a month ago and wore bandages on his eyes, was among those allowed cross into Turkey for treatment, accompanied by his father Ahmad.

"We've been living out in the open because we don't have any place to stay," Ahmad, who came from Azaz, about 30 kilometers from Aleppo city, told AFP.

At least 11 migrants drowned on Monday when their boat sank in the Aegean while they tried to cross from Turkey to Greece

Meanwhile, at least 11 refugees drowned on Monday when their boat sank in the Aegean while they tried to cross from Turkey to Greece, local media said.

The Turkish coastguard rescued three migrants.

The deaths came as German Chancellor Angela Merkel was meeting Turkish officials in Ankara for talks on reducing the influx of migrants to Europe.

Turkey, a key country on the migrant route to Europe, is central to Merkel's diplomatic efforts to reduce the flow. Germany saw an unprecedented 1.1 million asylum seekers arrive last year, many of them fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan

Turkey agreed in November to fight smuggling networks and help curb irregular migration.

In return, the EU has pledged 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) to help improve the condition of refugees, and to grant political concessions to Turkey, including an easing of visa restrictions and the fast-tracking of its EU membership process.

Turkey has since started to require Syrians arriving from third countries to apply for visas, in a bid to exclude those who aim to continue on to Greece.

Turkey has agreed to grant work permits to Syrians as an incentive for them to stay in Turkey.

Ankara has announced plans to increase coast guards' capabilities and designate human smuggling as a form of organised crime

Merkel is also to hold talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has warned that Turkey is "under threat" from the refugee tide but said that "if necessary, we have to, and will, let our brothers in".

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Saturday that Turkey had already received 5,000 people fleeing the Aleppo offensive and another 50,000 to 55,000 were on their way.

Medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said three MSF-supported hospitals in the Aleppo region had been bombed.

"From what MSF can see the situation in Azaz district is desperate, with ongoing fighting and tens of thousands of people displaced," said Muskilda Zancada, head of the group's Syria mission.

"We... have seen problems with lack of space to accommodate people, and insufficient water and sanitation in many areas."

'Survival and dignity'

Top diplomats from countries trying to resolve Syria's five-year conflict, which has claimed 260,000 lives and displaced half the population, are set to meet on February 11 after peace talks collapsed last week.

The latest crisis began as Syrian government forces closed in on Aleppo city in their most significant advance since Russia intervened in September in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

Regime troops advanced Sunday towards Tal Rifaat - one of the last rebel strongholds in Aleppo province - the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Syria's mainstream rebels are now threatened with collapse after the regime severed their main supply line to Aleppo city.

Opposition forces and roughly 350,000 civilians inside rebel-held parts of the city face the risk of a government siege, a tactic employed to devastating effect against other former rebel bastions.

On Sunday an aid convoy entered the regime-besieged town of Moadamiyat al-Sham near Damascus, in a new joint operation organised by the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

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