Turkey says it will not be caught unprepared by influx of Syrian refugees

May 30, 2011, Monday/ 16:44:00/ EMİNE KART

Turkish officials have neither denied nor confirmed a report suggesting that the Turkish military has drawn up an operation that would send several battalions of Turkish troops into Syria to carve out a “safe area” for Syrian refugees.

“Watching the hundreds of refugees pouring from Syria across the northern border of Lebanon, the Turkish government is now so fearful of a repeat of the great mass Iraqi Kurdish refugee tide that overwhelmed their border in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War that it has drawn up its own secret plans to prevent the Kurds of Syria moving in their thousands into the Kurdish areas of south-eastern Turkey. Turkish generals have thus prepared an operation that would send several battalions of Turkish troops into Syria itself to carve out a ‘safe area' for Syrian refugees inside Assad's caliphate,” veteran journalist Robert Fisk wrote in an article published in the UK daily The Independent on Monday.

In the article titled “Who cares in the Middle East what Obama says?” Fisk also said that Turkey has been prepared to advance well beyond the Syrian border town of Al Qamishli -- perhaps half way to Deir el-Zour -- to provide a “safe haven” for those fleeing the slaughter in Syria's cities.

Turkish officials, approached by Today's Zaman on Monday, declined to comment on the content of Fisk's article, while neither confirming nor denying whether carving out a safe area inside Syrian territory was among the contingency plans that had been drawn up by the relevant authorities.

“We have been brainstorming vis-à-vis all kinds of possibilities,” a senior Turkish diplomat, meanwhile, told Today's Zaman.

Turkey shares an 880-kilometer border with Syria, most of it heavily mined. On April 29, more than 250 Syrian asylum seekers were accepted by Turkish authorities in Yayladağı, a border town in the district of Hatay, and authorities have taken measures to address the health, shelter, food and security needs of these people who are currently living in a tent city established by the Turkish Red Crescent Society (Kızılay). On Sunday, Kızılay put up 25 more tents, in addition to the 55 tents currently set up, each of which accommodates five people.

“At the moment, there is no sign of a huge exodus of refugees from Syria to Turkey. Yet, there is certainly a lot of mental preparation, that is to say talking and planning, just to get ready for such a situation. We don't have any intention of being caught unaware by anything,” the same diplomat, speaking under the customary condition of anonymity, told Today's Zaman.

During the first Gulf War, some 450,000 Iraqi Kurdish refugees climbed snow-capped mountains to cross into Turkey. At the time, with only 20,000 tents on hand, the Turkish government found itself scrambling to shelter and feed far more people than it had anticipated. Iraqis who arrived in Turkey in groups after the Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988 and after the Gulf crisis of 1991 formed the biggest group of asylum seekers in Turkey's recent history.



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