The United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday it was making contingency plans for all 400,000 inhabitants of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani to flee into Turkey to escape advancing Islamic State militants.
Some 138,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees have entered Turkey in an exodus that began last week, and two border crossing points remain open, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said.
“We are preparing for the whole population fleeing into Turkey. The population of Kobani is 400,000,” UNHCR chief spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told a news briefing in Geneva.
“We don’t know, but we are preparing for that contingency.”
Syrian Kurds battled to defend a key border town from an Islamic State advance on Monday as Kurdish youths from Turkey rushed to their aid.
“Our biggest worry would be if Kobani itself fell,” Rupert Colville, U.N. human rights spokesman, told the briefing.
At least 105 villages around Kobani have been captured by Islamic State forces since Sept. 15, including at least 85 over the weekend, he said. The U.N. rights office had reports that an additional 100 villages had been abandoned or evacuated for fear of being captured, he added.
The Kobani region is also host to between 200,000 and 400,000 Syrians displaced from other parts of the country including Raqqa, Aleppo and Homs, Colville said.
Fleming called for support for the government of Turkey and other neighboring countries hosting more than 3 million Syrian refugees: “The 138,000 who just arrived in Turkey represents the number that all of Europe has taken in three years of the Syria war.”