A concrete wall being built to stop illegal crossings along the length of Turkey’s 900 kilometre border with Syria will be finished by the end of February, an official at a Turkish state institution with knowledge of the project said on Wednesday.
Ankara has long been under pressure from its NATO allies to seal off the border with Daesh-controlled territory in Syria, and is itself concerned by the presence of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia which controls most of its Syrian border.
Turkey views the YPG as a Syrian franchise of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), considered a terrorist group by Ankara, Washington and the EU. While Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organisation, the US supports it as one of its many partners in the fight against Daesh – a source of tension between the two NATO allies.
Construction on the border wall to combat smuggling and illegal migration started as early as 2014 even as Turkey maintained an open-border policy that has seen nearly 3 million Syrians seek refuge in the country.
“Construction will be completed within five months,” the official told Reuters, declining to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media. However, he said winter conditions would be a challenge to the timetable.
Turkey last month launched an operation dubbed “Euphrates Shield” in alliance with the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army to drive Daesh militants away from the border area and stop the YPG’s land grab in Syrian territory close to Turkey’s borders.
A 200 kilometre stretch of the wall has already been completed and state housing developer TOKI will build the rest, the unnamed official told Reuters. He likened the project to border walls in other countries, such as the one between parts of Mexico and the United States.
The official declined to give an estimate for the cost of construction. But the Turkish Hurriyet newspaper said that, including a road for military patrols planned alongside it, the wall was expected to cost 2 billion lira (£515.4 million).
Made up of seven-tonne portable blocks topped with razor wire, the wall will be three metres high and two metres wide. New watchtowers on roads patrolled by armoured vehicles have already been erected along the border this year as part of increased security measures.
Turkey has hosted millions of Syrian refugees since the start of the Syrian revolution against the rule of dictator Bashar Al-Assad in 2011, who inherited power after his father Hafez Al-Assad died in 2000. Ankara has since suffered from a stalling economy as well as terrorist attacks that are directly linked to the turmoil currently afflicting its neighbour.