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Syrian Refugees Flood Turkish Border


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Wade Goodwyn. Officials in Turkey say that as many as 60,000 Syrian refugees have streamed across the Turkish border in the past 24 hours as Islamic State militants move into northern Syria. Refugees are fleeing fighting between Kurdish forces and ISIS which has seized dozens of villages in the area. United Nations says it's bracing for hundreds of thousands more arriving in the coming days. NPR's Deb Amos is on the Turkish-Syrian border. She joins us now. People are desperate to escape the fighting. What's the situation there Deb?

DEB AMOS, BYLINE: Oh, they are. We were in a border town called Suruc. In fact, from there you can see Kobani where the fighting is happening right on the other side of the border. It is chaos in that town. Many people arrived overnight. In the town square you see families just sitting there. Some came with blankets, with suitcases. Others came with nothing.

But there's no aid yet because this happened so quickly. There are still people coming across the border. We went right up to the border, and what you see is lines of cars. Turkish families who have relatives on the Syrian side are waiting for them to cross to take them in. Those are the lucky ones. They have a place to go. Many people do not. There are tens of thousands of Kurds crossing that border.

GOODWYN: They join more than 800,000 refugees. What is Turkey going to do?

AMOS: I think this has come so quickly that they're not altogether sure. They were hesitant to open the border in the beginning. There was a huge mass. There were some people who were hurt by land mines on that border. The Turks opened eight border posts along the frontier. But it's tense there.

And we saw that there has been some tear gassing of some of these refugees who are coming across. The Turks say they don't want Syria and Kurdish militias to cross the border. Also to add to the chaos, there are Turkish Kurds who have heard the call. They are crossing the other way to go fight with Kurds on the Syrian side.

And we witnessed a remarkable scene right on the border. There was a water truck in line with the rest of the cars. There were some policemen inside that truck. All of a sudden the truck started to back up, crushed three cars with people in them. And men on the side of the road began hurling rocks at the truck and broke the windows. So I'm telling you this is a very tense scene on the border.

GOODWYN: On a different subject, dozens of Turkish officials were held by Islamic State militants for the past few months. Now they've been released.

AMOS: Huge success here in Turkey - it was on television broadcast live all day. They have been held for 101 days by Islamic State militants in Iraq. It seems there was some negotiations. This was not a hostage rescue. It was a negotiated settlement between the Turkish government and ISIS. We do not know all of the details of that release. It did play into what happened on the border with the Kurds. The Turks knew that the hostages were coming out. It was in one of the crossings where Kurds had massed. The Turkish officials say that that's why they opened the border to these Kurds. They didn't want it to get in the way of the release of these hostages which has been hugely important in Turkey. Turkish foreign policy has been kidnapped along with these diplomats because Turkey has been very hesitant to join the coalition against ISIS - didn't want to put their diplomats at risk.

GOODWYN: Deb Amos - she joined us from the Turkish-Syrian border. Take care, Deb.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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