January 23, 2020 / 12:57 PM / a month ago

Turkish aid groups building houses in Syria for Idlib's displaced

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish aid groups have begun building more than 10,000 houses in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib to shelter growing numbers of people displaced by fighting, while Turkey seeks to prevent a new influx of migrants fleeing from Syria.

The houses are being erected near a Syrian village next to the Turkish border, an area so far spared from the air strikes and fighting which have uprooted hundreds of thousands of people.

Syrian and Russian forces have bombarded rebel-controlled targets in Idlib this week despite a deal between Turkey and Russia, which back opposing sides in the conflict, for a Jan. 12 ceasefire. On Thursday Russia said hundreds of Syrian militants launched attacks on Syrian government forces in Idlib.

Turkey already hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees and fears that the fighting in Idlib - the last notable rebel stronghold in Syria after almost nine years of conflict - could drive millions more across the border.

But last week Ankara suggested it could reach a deal with Moscow to prevent another refugee wave.

Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said the two countries were discussing the establishment of a secure zone in Idlib to host the displaced Syrians over the winter.

Turkish aid group Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) said that more than 450,000 people had fled toward the Turkish border over the past five months and that it was aiming to build 10,000 houses around 5 km (3 miles) from the frontier.

“We provide food and clothes to the families on the migrant trail, but we also need to provide them shelter throughout the winter months,” IHH Deputy Chairman Serkan Nergis said.

Nergis said the houses would provide better shelter than the existing tent camps near the border. The houses “will begin hosting their guests in a few days”, with the goal of accommodating 60,000 people, Nergis said.

Images from the project showed several rows of houses under construction next to the tents currently housing the displaced Syrians, in Idlib’s Kafr Lusin region, near the Turkish border.

Turkey’s Kizilay aid group also said this week it will build 1,000 emergency housing units in Idlib, which would be completed in 2-3 weeks.

President Tayyip Erdogan said last week Turkey was working to provide better conditions for the displaced Syrians in Idlib during the freezing winter.

Reporting by Yesim Dikmen; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans/Mark Heinrich

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