17 March 2012
The Syrian army's attacks on the northern Syrian city of Idlib are triggering a new wave of refugees to Turkey. Fleeing the embattled city and surrounding villages close to the Turkish border, civilians and members of the armed opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) are entering Turkey in increasing numbers.
Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Selcuk Unal also said a top general defected this week, seeking refuge in Turkey, bringing the total number of high level generals in Turkey to seven.
"It's a high level defection along with tens, hundreds of Syrian military personnel in Turkey," he told SES Türkiye.
Meanwhile, Syria is planting landmines along the border to stem the flow of refugees and army defections.
"The Syrian administration has been planting mines, taking measures not to allow refugees to flee to the other side of the border," Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said on television Thursday (March 15th).
Turkey has repeatedly vowed to keep the border open, but announced it would end some consular services in Damascus on March 22nd, and encouraged its citizens in Syria to return home, the BBC reported March 16th.
While preparing for the worst case scenario, the president of the Turkish Red Crescent, Ahmet Lutfi Akar told SES Türkiye that their hope is to see the Syrian crisis resolved peacefully, allowing people to move back to their homes without fear for their lives.
The Red Crescent has already sent additional truckloads of tents and logistical support to the region to accommodate the new refugees.
The Red Crescent currently operates seven camps in Hatay. There is another 10,000-person camp under construction in Kilis, composed of containers where people will have kitchens, bathrooms, and toilets in the unit. Healthcare and all the basic needs -- including food three times a day -- are provided. The first wave of nearly 10,000 refugees entered Turkey last summer.
The spokesman for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Ankara, Metin Corabatir, told SES Türkiye that the agency appreciates the Turkish government's decision to keep the border open, as well as the Red Crescent's effort to provide safe shelter and basic needs.
"We also told the Turkish government that we're ready to help in any way needed," he said, adding that five people from UNHCR had already been launched to Hatay to provide technical support.
One of the key support functions they provide is to get people recorded and processed, many of whom arrive with no passport or identification.
"For example, we assist in how to keep records; how to interview the ones who decide to move back; what kind of information needs to be taken; what kind of questions need to be asked; if there is any glitch in the camps' administration; if there is any aid that is not reaching those in need," he explained.
Meanwhile, Kyung-wha Kang, deputy UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, also said on Tuesday that they "will be sending monitors for documentation of atrocities in bordering countries later this week".
All these efforts have to be co-ordinated with the Turkish authorities, as they are the ones who provide security and protection in and around the camps. The UNHCR spokesman said that co-operation is working well, and that they have an ongoing dialogue with Turkish authorities.
Despite the rising cost of maintaining the refugee camps for nearly a year -- and the prospect of greater refugee flows -- the foreign ministry spokesman said Turkey hasn't officially requested any financial or other support from the international community.
"So far, the Turkish state is able to take care of the Syrians," Unal said, noting that the Organisation of the Islamic Conference may provide financial support in the weeks and months to come, in order to help the Red Crescent if the situation worsens.
Meanwhile, the head of the Red Crescent said a new protocol had been signed with Saudi Arabia's Red Crescent last week. "If necessary, they decided to help us both financially and morally when we face trouble across our borders," Akar said, adding that the United States and other allied countries had also assured them they would help share the burden if called upon to do so.
For Yasar Yakis, a former foreign minister during the ruling AK Party's first term, this is a distinct possibility, as things are likely to get worse in Syria, forcing more people to flee to Turkey.
"The Turkish economy is resilient enough to absorb a number of 10,000 Syrian refugees," he said. "But if it goes over that number, it will likely cause great troubles."
Yakis is also concerned that large refugee flows and violence along the border may pull Turkey into what's becoming a Syrian civil war.
"As the regime will consider those Syrians in Turkey as a threat to their survival, they will be on the target list regardless of their location, and so this clash may spill over into Turkey," he warned.