U.N. hopes Turkey will open border gate to those fleeing Aleppo

Syrians wait with their belongings before heading to Turkey through the Bab Al-Salam border crossing, in Darat Izza, Aleppo countryside, Syria, February 10, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

ANKARA (Reuters) - U.N. second in command Jan Eliasson said on Monday he was discussing with Turkish officials whether they can open the border to the thousands fleeing fighting in Aleppo in case the violence reaches where they are huddled on the Syrian side.

Close to 100,000 people are locked out of Turkey near the Oncupinar border crossing after they fled escalating air strikes and a Syrian government assault on Aleppo, with humanitarian aid from Turkish relief agencies provided inside Syria.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said he prefers the setting up of a “safe zone” perimeter inside Syria border where displaced people would be protected from attack.

“We hope that they are secure where they are, but we would also hope in the end there would be continued Turkish generosity,” the deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, told Reuters when asked whether Turkey should open the border.

Eliasson said he had discussing the possible opening of the border during talks with his Turkish colleagues.

Turkey hosts some 2.6 million refugees from the five-year conflict, but is coming under growing pressure from the United States to secure the border more tightly because of the risk from militants travelling under the guise of seeking refuge, and, from Europe, to stem the onward flow of migrants.

“I understand that this is a tremendous strain on this nation and that they of course have their concerns ... that’s not only for us to discuss, that’s also for the European Union who are now feeling that these flows have to be reduced,” Eliasson said.

Turkey has made a deal with the Europe to cut back the flow of migrants, more than two thousand of which continue to cross illegally from Turkey to Greece every day, in exchange for financial support for the refugees inside Turkey and for refreshing its accession process to the EU.

Reporting by Dasha Afanasieva; Editing by Alison Williams