More than 130,000 Syrian Kurds have fled across the border into Turkey, escaping an advance by Islamic State jihadists, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Monday.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s PKK Kurdish rebel group on Monday called on fellow Kurds to cross into Syria and combat IS insurgents besieging a town near the border, the pro-Kurdish agency Firat reported.
“The number of Syrians has passed 130,000,” Kurtulmus told reporters in Ankara, warning that the number would likely rise.
IS extremists have seized dozens of villages in the past week as they advance on the town of Ain al-Arab, called Kobane in Kurdish, near the border.
“If ISIL attacks continue in the Kobane region, Turkey may face an intensive influx,” Kurtulmus said, using one of a handful of alternative names for the IS group.
“We have taken all necessary measures in case of a continued influx of displaced people. We don’t want that, of course, but we are ready,” he added.
The latest total was a sharp increase from a figure of 104,000 given earlier Monday by Turkey’s emergencies directorate.
“Some of the incoming refugees are due to stay at their relatives’ houses in Turkey, and some will be transferred to the camps,” a Turkish official told AFP.
The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, on Saturday said that as many as hundreds of thousands of refugees might flee.
“We are ready for the worst scenario,” Kurtulmus said. “The number of displaced people has not reached that level, but we will do everything to welcome those entering Turkey.”
Until the IS assault, Kobane, the third biggest Kurdish population centre in Syria, had been relatively safe, sheltering 200,000 people displaced from elsewhere in the war-torn country.
Turkey’s emergencies directorate, the AFAD, said authorities were clamping down at the border with Syria.
“The border is open, but only at one place at Mursitpinar, for better organisation of crossings,” an AFAD official said.
“A single point has been opened for displaced Syrians, so that we can do identity control and give first aid, vaccinating people if necessary,” the official said.
– PKK urges ‘mobilisation’-
The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and its Western allies, called for “mobilisation,” saying, “the day of glory and honour has arrived.”
The appeal urged young Kurds in Turkey to join the fight against IS forces around Kobane region.
“We call on our entire people, as well as our friends, to step up the resistance,” the PKK statement said.
Meanwhile, a PKK leader, Dursun Kalkan, appealed for “all Kurds to unite their forces,” according to the Firat agency. He accused the Turkish government of “collaboration” with the IS radicals.
Ankara has been criticised for indirectly encouraging the formation of IS through its support of Islamist elements within the Syrian rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad — criticism that Ankara has rejected.
On Sunday, Turkish police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse angry crowds of Kurds.
Turkey entered a truce in March 2013 with Kurdish PKK rebels, seeking self rule in the southeast. But peace talks to end a three-decade insurgency stalled after rebels said Ankara was not doing enough to improve conditions for the Kurdish minority.
Although hostilities have largely died down, sporadic violence erupts in the Kurdish-majority southeast.
After the lightening gains by IS militants in Iraq, Turkey has raised fears that weapons sent by Western countries to forces fighting the radicals may end up in the hands of the Kurdish separatist rebels — a concern that Ankara conveyed to US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel this month.
Turkey had so far refused to get involved militarily in the US-led coalition to defeat jihadists, citing the safety of its dozens of hostages held in Mosul by the militants.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signalled Sunday that Turkey may re-evaluate its cooperation with the anti-IS coalition, now that the hostages have been released.