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Thousands Of Syrian Kurds Fleeing Islamic State

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Before the U.S.-led bombing, last weekend, a mass of refugees began crossing the Syrian border into Turkey. It appears they were fleeing an advance by Islamic State militants. Early yesterday, the number was estimated at 130,000 and by the end of the day, some reports said it was 200,000. The majority of the refugees are Kurdish, that is they're members of the mostly Sunni Muslim, non-Arab people who are minorities in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. For more on the refugee situation in Turkey we called Carol Batchelor, who is representative in that country of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. She said the number of refugees could climb much higher.

CAROL BATCHELOR: It's a moving theater on the other side of the border, and there are additional locations where there are still people. So if the conflict moves in their direction than that number of people will also be (inaudible). So we are anticipating that the numbers could climb as high as 500 to 600 people should nothing change on the other side of the border. I'd like to add here that this is an addition to the 1.5 million Syrian refugees already in Turkey.

SIEGEL: Well, the war in Syria has been going on for over three years. That means that something unusual has happened in the past week to see this spike of refugees coming over all at once. Is it all about the Islamic State? Is that what has driven these people to flee?

BATCHELOR: Well, this is what they are reporting, that basically their villages were surrounded on three sides and the only place to escape was crossing into Turkey. They are trying to bring their livestock and all of their belongings with them. Some of them have walked the entire distance and they are not in very good condition.

SIEGEL: How far, how long a walk would that be and what kind of terrain are people walking through?

BATCHELOR: It's largely agricultural in this area. Some of the towns and villages are 10 kilometers, 20 kilometers, even 30 kilometers from the border. And people are coming with infants, there are elderly, there are disabled. As I said, their condition is not very good on arrival.

SIEGEL: Carol Batchelor, can you just give us a sense of geography for people who've never been anywhere near these places, say, this particular point of the border between Turkey and Syria - how far is it from Raqqah in Syria, which has been the target of U.S. airstrikes overnight?

BATCHELOR: It's not too far from Raqqa. In fact, it's part of the same provincial area. And of course Raqqah is a place where people have not yet fled in significant numbers from. So this may be a next location. This then would be further down the Turkey-Syria border at an area called Ceylanpinar. There is already a refugee camp there hosting some 20,000 people. And just a few kilometers up the road another refugee camp. So this province in Turkey, it's called Sanliurfa Province is already hosting tens of thousands.

SIEGEL: Does this new influx from Syria into Turkey, does it mean that the U.N. will have to establish and Turkey will have to establish new camps to house hundreds of thousands of people?

BATCHELOR: Well, in fact they are creating two entirely new camps in addition to trying to expand existing ones. And there is some discussion about possibly three new camps. But we very much need assistance, there are those who are unable to work, unable to provide for their families who have survived extreme traumas and we need assistance in order to be able to help.

SIEGEL: Carol Batchelor, thank you very much for talking with us about it today.

BATCHELOR: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: That's Carol Batchelor speaking to us from Turkey, where she is the representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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