ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A new wave of migration might be starting following an increase in fighting in the Syrian province of Aleppo, where Syrian government and Russian warplanes are attacking opposition-held areas, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.
Some 350,000 people live in opposition-held areas in the province and two thousand of those have so far moved towards the border with Turkey though they have not yet crossed, Izzet Sahin, international relations coordinator at the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) said.
Sahin of IHH, which established 19 internally displaced persons camps inside Syria, said around 80,000 people had fled Hama city because of air strikes, and were living in the open air in the countryside.
“If there is a further attack on Aleppo it means we will receive hundreds of thousands (into Turkey) in the coming weeks. It is a disaster. They have nowhere to go,” Sahin said.
Government officials said there was no sign yet of people from Aleppo reaching Turkey in large numbers, adding that there was capacity to initially accommodate 55-60,000 in a camp in the Turkish border town of Kilis.
With the refugee influx becoming a hot button issue days before a parliamentary election in Turkey and amid pressure from the European Union to stem the flow of people to its shores, Turkey’s open-door policy toward migrants is likely to be tested.
In a speech to a law association, Erdogan said there were strong indications that a new wave of migration had started.
He also repeated his calls to train and equip more rebels against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and to set up a safe zone to protect displaced civilians - a plan which has long failed to find support from Western allies.
“If these are done, I believe the migration from Syria will stop and the refugees that we are hosting will also be able to go back,” he said, referring to the more than 2 million Syrian Syrians sheltering in Turkey.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Middle East wars have traveled onwards from Turkey to Europe - the biggest migration movement the continent has seen since World War Two.
The European Union is now proposing financial aid and faster EU membership for Turkey in the hope of winning its help in stemming the influx.
While Ankara wants fresh funding, it should not be expected to turn itself into a “concentration camp” for refugees, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Monday.
Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul, Tom Perry in Beirut and Dasha Afanasieva in Ankara; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Richard Balmforth