Turks and Kurds exchange blame for preventing Syrians from returning home

Published June 18th, 2015 - 04:46 GMT

Refugees seeking to return to the Syrian town of Tal Abyad after fleeing fighting there last week were stuck on the Turkish side of the border Thursday amid conflicting accounts over who closed the frontier.

Turkish authorities said refugees were not able to cross because Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia had closed the gate on the other side of the border.

But the YPG, who now control Tal Abyad, denied they were responsible for the border closure.

"From our point of view, the border is open. ...It's the Turks who closed the border from their side," YPG spokesman Redur Khali told AFP in Beirut, adding that people were continuing to return through unofficial crossing points.

Earlier this week the YPG ousted Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists from Tal Abyad after fighting that prompted some 23,000 Syrian refugees to flee into Turkey.

Hundreds of Syrians returned home on Wednesday as calm returned to their hometown. But on Thursday some 200 others were unable to cross theborder.

A Turkish official told AFP that while a total of 1,000 Syrians had returned home on Wednesday across the border, the YPG was not allowing any crossing on Thursday.

"The Turkish side has no objections" to opening the border, the official stressed.

"We haven't closed the gate, but YPG has not been allowing anyone in as of today," added the official.

The refugees said they had been told the border would not openuntil Monday, meaning they will miss celebrating the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan at home.

"Today we came to the gate hoping we can cross into Tal Abyad, I have been waiting since 7 a.m. in the morning but they are not letting us in," said Emine, 60.

"If they have some mercy, they let us go back to our home. It's Ramadanfor god's sake!"

YPG spokesman Redur Khali said that "life is normal today in Tal Abyad. We are continuing to check houses that we did not enter yet and looking for unexploded mines."

Turkey, which has taken in some 1.8 million Syrian refugees since the conflict started in 2011, has repeatedly complained that it has been left to shoulder an unfair burden.

But it has also faced accusations itself of letting ISIS fighters cross back and forth across its borders, accusations Ankara vehemently denies.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan late Wednesday held an unannounced meeting in Ankara with top officials, including Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and the head of Turkey's emergency aid agency Fuat Oktay, about the Syria crisis.

They discussed the latest influx of migrants into Turkey but no more detailswere released, the official Anatolia news agency reported.

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