TURKEY is bracing itself for an unprecedented refugee crisis after as many as 200,000 ethnic Kurds fled across the frontier from Syria in just two days to escape a fresh advance by Islamist extremists.
The influx came after Islamic State (Isil) forces captured dozens of Kurdish villages in northern Syria and threatened the border city of Kobane, which was left deserted after most of its inhabitants evacuated in panic.
The mass exodus triggered chaotic scenes on the Turkish side of the border after authorities in Ankara, Turkey's capital, were forced to let refugees in by cutting openings in a barbed wire fence following warnings of a potential humanitarian catastrophe.
Refugees who crossed recalled the fear they left behind, with some claiming Isil had broadcast dire warnings about their fate.
"They said in the mosques that they could kill all Kurds between seven and 77-years-old," said Sahab Basravi. "So we collected our things and left, immediately."
Amid calls for the United Nations and international aid agencies to help, the Turkish deputy prime minister said an even greater number of refugees could flood in during the coming days.
"I hope that we are not faced with a more populous refugee wave, but if we are, we have taken our precautions," said Numan Kurtulmus. "A refugee wave that can be expressed by hundreds of thousands is a possibility."
Despite Turkey's proclamations that it could cope, there were pleas for international assistance from Syrian groups opposed to the regime of Bashar Assad, Syria's president who has fought armed rebels in a bloody three-and-a-half year civil war.
"We ask all the international agencies, the countries of the world, the United Nations and the Turkish government to come together to help the Kurds in their crisis," said Hevaroun Sherif, a member of the Syrian National Coalition.
The appeal came even as the YPG, a Kurdish militia in Syria, yesterday claimed to have halted Isil's advance on Kobane.
"Fierce clashes are still under way, but the Isil advance to the east of Kobane has been halted since last night," Redur Xelil, a spokesman for the YPG said.
Unofficial estimates have put the number of Kurdish refugees to have crossed the border at 200,000 - greater than the figures issued by the government, reported the English-language Hurriyet Daily News.
There are thought to be between 250,000 and 400,000 people living in the region around Kobane creating the potential for another wave.
Nearly 1.6 million refugees have entered Turkey from Syria since fighting began against the Assad regime in March 2011.
Kobane, less than two miles from the Turkish border, was a virtual ghost town when the 'Daily Telegraph visited' - with only around 2,000 of its 50,000 inhabitants remaining, plus a handful of Kurdish fighters.
Many of those who stayed were elderly people who guarded their property with guns.
People began seeking refuge at the border last Friday after Isil made fresh gains that saw it overrun around 50 Kurdish villages.
At least 16 Kurds have been reported killed in recent days. Isil, which has attacked other non-Sunni Muslim groups, including Christians, Yazidis, Alawites and Shiites in Iraq and Syria, is believed to be targeting the Kurds because of their secular lifestyle.
Most said it was Isil's reputation for bloodthirsty killings that had driven them to leave. Many of those escaping took shelter in the Turkish border town of Suruc, whose population is said to have more than doubled in recent days.
Some have been taken in by relatives in a Turkish region whose population - like the neighbouring Syrian borderlands - is mainly Kurdish. Others were accommodated in parks, squares and hospitals, while the Turkish government has set up two temporary camps consisting of tents.
Many of those crossing were women and children, many weeping hysterically from fear and distress. The humanitarian mission has been accompanied by a massive security show of strength with police and soldiers deployed in huge numbers, apparently to prevent YPG fighters entering to join the Kurdistan Workers Party, their Turkey-based sister movement which is outlawed by the Turkish government as a terrorist group.
Yesterday in Baghdad a wave of suicide bombings by Isil militants in western Iraq killed 40 soldiers amid waning efforts by security forces to retake territory from the Sunni extremist group, a senior Iraqi commander said last night.
The attacks, which occurred in the town of Sijir, dealt a heavy blow to government efforts to rein in the militants whose rampage has seized much of the country's north and west this summer - even as Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters are starting to be trained by Iraq's Western allies in the battle against Isil.
In addition to the 40 troops killed in the suicide bombings, 68 Iraqi soldiers were apparently captured by Isil. © Daily Telegraph, London)