BEIRUT – A surprise assault by the Islamic State group has trapped tens of thousands of terrified people on the Syrian border with Turkey, Doctors Without Borders said Monday, warning the situation is “unacceptable.
Pablo Marco, the regional manager of the charity known by its French acronym MSF, said concerns are rising for a large civilian population less than 5 km (3 miles) from advancing Islamic State jihadis.
“We are talking about 100,000 people who are trapped a few kilometers from IS. They are terrified, there is nowhere to go,” Marco said in a telephone interview.
Islamic State fighters swept toward the last rebel strongholds of Marea and Azaz in Aleppo province on Friday, forcing thousands to flee toward the northern frontier.
But Turkey has kept the border closed, leaving civilians stuck between the violent front line with Islamic State to the east, the sealed border to the north, and the autonomous Kurdish canton of Afrin to the west.
“These people are now in a very small area of 4 by 7 km,” said Marco. “The situation is absolutely unsustainable and unacceptable for this population.”
The United Nations has said the fighting has trapped up to 165,000 civilians between Azaz and the closed Turkish border.
Marco said many of those who fled the Islamic State onslaught in recent days had already been displaced two or three times from other parts of the province.
“You can imagine how hard it is for them.”
More than half of Syria’s population have fled their homes since the conflict first erupted in 2011, with nearly 5 million escaping to neighboring countries.
An estimated 6,000 people have escaped the fighting in Marea either toward the border or west toward the Kurdish-controlled region of Afrin.
But with limited resources, Marco said, Kurdish authorities will not be able to take in an influx of displaced individuals.
As the circumstances grow increasingly dire, Marco called on Turkish authorities to allow safe haven for those fleeing Islamic State’s speedy advance.
“We know that the Turkish authorities are very concerned about the situation. They have made big efforts as you know, but the situation is so terrible that it justifies (opening the border).”
But he also called on the European Union “to do their part” to both support Turkey and take in more Syrian refugees escaping violence at home.
“All actors who are involved need to find a solution. … This is really a shame.”