Number of Syrian refugees in Turkey hits 100,000 threshold

Number of Syrian refugees in Turkey hits 100,000 threshold

A tent city in Turkey's Şanlıurfa province, bordering Syria. (Photo: Cihan)

October 15, 2012, Monday/ 11:30:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey has now exceeded 100,000, a level that Turkey said could trigger actions such as the creation of a buffer zone because it would struggle to accommodate more than 100,000 refugees.

In a statement on Monday, the Prime Ministry's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) announced that there were now 100,363 Syrians at 13 camps built in seven Turkish provinces along the border with Syria.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said in August that Turkey would not accept more than 100,000 refugees and that the creation of a buffer zone could be necessary to contain the refugee flow onto its soil.

Turkish officials describe the number as a “psychological threshold,” which does not automatically trigger measures for the creation of a buffer zone, emphasizing also the importance of international support for such a move.

Speaking to Today's Zaman, an official said the issue was not on Turkey's immediate agenda just because the number of refugees has hit 100,000, but added that this remains an option. More than 10,000 Syrians are already waiting on the other side of the border and there are fears that an army offensive in Aleppo, where clashes between the army forces and the opposition have been raging, could spark a new wave of refugees headed towards the Turkish border.

Turkey, which has taken on an increasingly leading role in international opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has called already for the United Nations to build refugee camps in a safe zone within Syria's borders. But these calls are met with caution in the West, which is wary of engaging in confrontation with the Syrian army without a UN decision authorizing military action in the civil war-battered country. Critics say creating safe zones or a buffer zone within Syria on humanitarian concerns would still require a significant military commitment because it would inevitably mean military confrontation with the Syrian army.

The foreign minister of Qatar, a country which -- like Turkey -- supports the anti-Assad opposition, renewed the call on the United Nations on Friday to support a no-fly zone to protect civilians caught in the middle of the country's escalating civil war as well as to support Syrian opposition forces by providing arms and funding.

Khalid Bin Mohammad al-Attiyah said Qatar supports the creation of a buffer or no-fly zone. "If we leave Syria further, we will aggravate the situation more and more," he said in an interview with the Associated Press.

More than 143,000 Syrians have entered Turkey since the conflict began in March 2011, while 42,777 Syrians have subsequently returned, according to AFAD data. Turkey, which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on hosting the refugees, says the international community should act immediately to stop the humanitarian tragedy.

Along with the humanitarian concerns stemming from the Syrian civil war, military tensions on the Turkish-Syria border are also escalating. Turkey has reinforced its military units along the border after shelling Syrian targets in retaliation for a mortar bomb fired from the Syrian territory that killed five civilians on a border town in Turkey early this month.

On Saturday, Foreign Minister Davutoğlu said Turkey will retaliate without hesitation if its border with Syria is violated again and if it believes that its national security is in danger. "When it comes to security, Turkey's border is equal to the Norwegian border as far as NATO is concerned. The security of these borders is the security of NATO. So we believe that this solidarity will continue,” Davutoğlu said.

Earlier, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel also vowed to respond “with greater force” if the Syrian shells continued to land on Turkish soil.

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