Istanbul/Brussels: More than 3,000 Turkmens and Arabs fleeing advancing pro-government Syrian forces in the north of Latakia province have crossed into Turkey over the past three days, Turkish disaster agency AFAD said on Monday.
A Turkmen official said several thousand more migrants were expected as a camp mostly sheltering Turkmens in the Syrian village of Yamadi was being evacuated after the pro-government forces backed by Russian air strikes advanced.
"After the attacks have spilled over to Yamadi camp, the first group of 731 migrants, mostly babies, children, women and the elderly, have entered our country," AFAD said in a statement.
Local rural towns, in a province traditionally seen as a stronghold of President Bashar Al Assad, have been relatively safe until a military offensive over the last two months, including 300 air raids, "which is why people from these communities are now being displaced in large numbers", the United Nations said.
The Turkmens are ethnic kin of the Turks, and Turkey has been particularly angered by what it says is Russian targeting of them in Syria.
At least 12,733 civilians have been displaced in two months of fighting, and more displacement is expected if pro-Assad forces advance towards Kensaba town and along the Turkish border, a UN humanitarian report said.
In southern Syria, a further 35,715 people have been uprooted by another government offensive to retake the strategic town of Sheikh Maskin, the UN said.
AFAD said 3,120 people had already crossed through Pulluyazi, a village near the border town of Yayladagi in Turkey's southern Hatay province.
The influx has accelerated since January 24, when Rabiya, a rebel-held town in Latakia province, was captured by Syrian pro-government forces.
The Syrian government's military campaign came a delegation from Syria's main opposition group, the High Negotiations Committee, arrived at the United Nations in Geneva on Monday for a first official session in UN-mediated peace talks overseen by UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura. The session is a prelude to the start of "proximity talks" that De Mistura hopes to hold between the opposition and a government delegation.
Most of Syria's pre-war population have been forced out of their homes by the war, 5 million as refugees and 6.5 million displaced within the country.
"On average, since 2011, 50 Syrian families have been displaced every hour of every day," UNHCR said in its latest Syria report.
Russian air strikes have killed nearly 1,400 civilians since Moscow started its aerial campaign in support of Assad nearly four months ago, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said on Saturday. An opposition delegate said bombings had intensified before the peace talks.
"There was an attack by Russians over the weekend on the camp," a Turkmen official at Yayladagi said. "Thankfully it did not fall right at the heart of the camp, but still 40 people were wounded," he said.
"A lot of towns, villages in the north of Latakia have already been emptied. But there's still another 3,000-4,000 civilians there who haven't left," he said.
Turkey has said that Russia's actions in Syria risk exacerbating a refugee crisis soon after it struck a deal with the EU to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. Meanwhile, the European Union is set to promise some 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) in Syrian refugee aid at an international donor conference on Thursday, officials said, although much will be spent outside Syria barring an end to its civil war.
European governments and EU institutions in Brussels are seeking to respond to a call by Britain, Germany and Norway, which are hosting the conference in London along with the United Nations and Kuwait, to double humanitarian aid to the region.
"We need to ensure that all Syria's neighbours are supported," an EU official said, referring to Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. "Inside Syria, London needs to demonstrate that the EU and others are ready to provide humanitarian access to all areas as soon as a ceasefire is agreed," the official added, although some aid would also be delivered inside the country.
Heads of state and government and ministers from countries around the world will converge on London for the "Supporting Syria and the Region" conference, which aims to raise funds for humanitarian crises caused by the Syrian war.
UN agencies are appealing for a total of $7.73 billion to cope with Syria's needs this year with a further $1.2 billion required by regional governments for their own plans to deal with the impact of Syria's conflict.
The European Union is to provide exact details of its aid pledges at the conference on Thursday. It gave about 1.1 billion euros to the region in the last donor gathering in Kuwait in January 2015, officials said.
Much of the EU aid, which will be in the form of water, sanitation, food, shelter, and medicines, will be in the form of grants and loans with low interest rates and long grace periods.