KILIS, Turkey – Turkey must open its doors to the thousands of Syrians who have massed at the border after fleeing violence, the United Nations demanded Tuesday, warning that hundreds of thousands of others in Syria's largest city could be soon cut off from humanitarian aid amid blistering Syrian and Russian airstrikes.
Turkey, already home to 2.5 million Syrian refugees, insists that it has an open-door policy toward Syrians escaping conflict but has still kept a key border crossing closed for days. Government officials say the country will provide assistance to the displaced Syrians within their own borders "as much as possible" and would allow them in "when necessary."
The U.N. humanitarian office OCHA said some 300,000 people could be cut off from aid if Syrian government and allied forces encircle the city of Aleppo and deprive those fleeing from their last way out. OCHA said local leaders believe up to 150,000 people could try to flee to nearby Afrin and the surrounding countryside.
Separately, UNHCR spokesman William Spindler asked Turkey to open the border to "all civilians who are fleeing danger and seeking international protection as they have done since the start of this crisis."
Spindler also urged other nations to shoulder the refugee burden and to work to end the conflict.
"At the end of the day, the answer to this crisis is for the peace process to continue in Syria and for the conflict to be solved," Spindler said.
On Tuesday, several aid trucks could be seen moving through Turkey's Oncupinar border crossing, opposite the Bab al-Salameh gate in Syria, which remained shut to refugees for the fifth straight day. Turkish authorities and charities are assisting the Syrians at a displaced persons camp near the border.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said as many as 50,000 people had reached the border, trying to escape intense Russian bombings around Aleppo. He estimated Tuesday that up to a million more could flee if the onslaught continues.
At a joint news conference with his Hungarian counterpart in Budapest, Cavusoglu said Turkey was admitting refugees in "in a controlled manner" and that 10,000 Syrians had been allowed in recently. He did not elaborate, however, and it was not clear if he was referring to the thousands of Syrian Turkmens who were admitted into Turkey earlier this month.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, meanwhile, called on world nations to speak out against Russia for "mercilessly bombing civilian targets" in Syria. He predicted that Russia would eventually retreat from Syria in "embarrassment" — in a similar manner to the Soviet forces who once left Afghanistan in defeat.
"Those ... who turned Syria into a bloodbath will certainly pay for it one day," Davutoglu said.
The U.N.'s World Food Program said Tuesday it has begun shipping lentils, pasta, beans, vegetable oil, wheat flour, sugar and other items to the town of Azaz northwest of Aleppo, near the border with Turkey, and hopes to continue in coming days.
"We are extremely concerned, as access and supply routes from the north to eastern Aleppo city and surrounding areas are now cut off," said Jakob Kern, the WFP country director for Syria. "But we are making every effort to get enough food in place for all those in need, bringing it in through the remaining open border crossing point from Turkey."
Calling the situation "quite volatile," Kern called on all sides to allow "unimpeded access" to the areas.
The war in Syria against President Bashar Assad's government began in 2011. It has killed over 250,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes.
Keaten reported from Geneva. Suzan Fraser contributed from Ankara, Turkey.