Turkey appeals to UN as Syrian refugee crisis at border deepens
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. (Photo: AA)
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made an urgent phone call to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon early on Friday to inform him about intensifying Syrian military attacks near the border and an exodus of refugees prompted by the crackdown, urging the UN to play a “more active role.”
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu urged the UN to play a ‘more active role’ in Syria’s growing refugee crisis after over 3,000 Syrians fled to Turkey in the last two days
“I told him [Ban] that there are operations targeting civilians particularly in Aleppo and Idlib and that there has been a growing influx of refugees into Turkey as a result of these operations. I said that necessary actions must be taken and that the clashes must end immediately,” Davutoğlu said of his phone conversation with the UN chief.
Davutoğlu also reportedly invited the UN chief to send representatives to the Turkey-Syrian border to monitor the worsening violence first hand. Ban said in return that he would contact a UN team, currently in Damascus for cease-fire talks, about the Turkish concerns, according to Davutoğlu.
Nearly 3,000 Syrians fled to Turkey on Thursday and early Friday -- pushing the total to nearly 24,000 -- as the Syrian army intensifies its crackdown on the opposition in the run-up to a UN deadline to withdraw troops from populated areas on April 10. It was by far the largest influx of refugees to Turkey in the conflict to date -- the daily number people crossing the boarder has stayed well below 1,000 per day in preceding months.
According to Syrian opposition groups, some 360 people have been killed in operations since April 1, when the Syrian administration announced that it had agreed to the UN peace plan. The figure was provided by the opposition Syrian General Revolution Council, SNN News Network and Syrian Human Rights Monitoring Organization, the Anatolia news agency reported late on Thursday. Davutoğlu said Turkey will continue to host Syrian refugees to the best of their ability but insisted that the international community should also be aware that there is a serious refugee exodus from Syria.
“Our doors have always been open to people who are leaving their houses, homelands and villages and coming to our country to protect their lives, however the international community should also see this fact,” he said.
Turkey says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must leave power and supports the opposition groups, while the UN plan does not call for Assad’s resignation and says the opposition forces must also cease fire. On Sunday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said any plan that puts “the oppressor and the oppressed in the same category will prolong violence,” apparently referring to the UN plan’s failure to call for Assad’s ouster.
Davutoğlu said he hoped the Syrian army will end operations as promised but cautioned that the situation should now be monitored closely in light of the latest attacks near the Turkish border.
He also said the UN and the international community would need to step in if more refugees arrive.
Syria steps up border tensions as Red Crescent prepares for aid corridor
The desperate condition of Syrians in the country’s north worsened on Friday, as refugees and activists reported hundreds of casualties from the shelling in the last few days, including 120 people killed in the last 48 hours in Taftanaz in Idlib, which was stormed by 50 tanks and armored vehicles. Residents across the restive north have said that despite promises by Damascus that it would comply with the Annan peace plan, no significant withdrawal was under way in any major cities.
Syria has also reportedly planted landmines near common points of transit for refugees fleeing from Syria to Turkey and Lebannon, Human Rights Watch reported in March.
“The army is destroying buildings and bombing them until they turn to charcoal,” Mohammed Khatib, a refugee who said he came from Kastanaz, a Syrian town of 20,000 people, told Reuters in Reyhanlı. Syrian activists in the refugee camps said most newcomers had crossed from Killi and other areas in east and north Idlib.
Syrian opposition activists said four refugees were shot dead trying to cross the Orontos River, which marks the border, this week, and a 16-year-old boy had drowned. The activists said the Syrian army fired at and sank barrels used as makeshift boats pulled by ropes.
“Behind the tents there are army machinegun positions. If Assad lets the people escape you would see hundreds of thousands of Syrians here,” said Mohammad Hijazi, who was elected as a representative of refugees in Boynuyoğun camp, one of several camps Turkish authorities have set up right on the border. “Every time the regime is given a deadline it is a catastrophe. Assad interprets it as a license for unlimited killing and another deadline is set,” Hijazi told Reuters, referring to the UN peace plan. “Assad wants to tell the Syrians never say no again.”
As the refugee crisis inside Syria intensified on Friday, the Turkish Red Crescent stated that it was preparing to deliver humanitarian aid to Syria in the event that Turkey or the international community call for a “humanitarian aid corridor” inside Syrian territory.
Speaking to the Anatolia news agency on Friday, Turkish Red Crescent’s Chairman Ahmet Lutfi Akar said that “in the event that the UN or other powers decide to open an aid corridor in a joint action with Turkey, the Turkish Red Crescent can enter Syria and extend humanitarian aid to people in Syrian cities like Damascus and Homs.”
Akar said the aid organization is currently focusing on dispatching aid to camps and hospitals along the border, and also works to provide emergency medical care to wounded refugees crossing the border. The United Nations estimated in March that over 200,000 Syrians had been internally displaced and over one million are currently in need of humanitarian assistance.
In a statement on Friday, Turkey’s Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) estimated that roughly 8,300 Syrians are being sheltered in Turkey’s Hatay province, 5,500 in Gaziantep province, and 9,100 in Kilis province. It warned that the numbers may increase dramatically in the coming months.