Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Syrian Refugees Pour Into Turkey

As Syrian security forces surround the the town of Jisr al-Shughour, located just 12 miles from the Turkish border, traumatized refugees continue to pour into the country. From Hurriyet Daily News:
Turkey will not close its doors to Syrians fleeing unrest in their country, the Turkish prime minister said Wednesday after a group of 169 Syrians fled the border town of Jisr al-Shughour overnight, fearing bloodshed.

“We are monitoring developments in Syria with concern,” Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan said at a news conference, urging Damascus to “change its attitude toward civilians” and “take its attitude to a more tolerant level as soon as possible.”

Turkey has exerted efforts for a peaceful transition process in Syria, but reforms have not been carried out at the desired speed and are being outpaced by growing violence, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told the private channel NTV in an interview Wednesday. He said Turkey is prepared to deal with a mass influx of Syrian refugees.

“We have taken all necessary precautions in case of a massive flow of crossings,” Davutoğlu said. Implying a security check would be made for Syrian refugees, he added, “We have to determine their intention [in] seeking refuge.”

People who fled the town of Jisr al-Shughour on Wednesday, fearing a crackdown by their government after the alleged massacre of 120 policemen, are sheltering at a camp set up by the Turkish Red Crescent in the Yayladagi district of Hatay, a Turkish city on the Syrian border.

A total of 420 Syrians have crossed the border and stayed in Turkey since the start of the unrest, a Turkish Foreign Ministry diplomat told the Daily News. The Anatolia news agency reported, however, that new groups are continuing to arrive at the Turkish border. Turkish officials also told reporters that many Syrians were waiting at villages near the border.
There are reports in the Turkish press that Syrian opposition is urging Syrians trapped in the conflict to flee over the border. Zaman reports that 200 refugees arrived in Turkey late on Monday night, and that the numbers have increased since. For Syrian expert Joshua Landis's account of what is going on, click here.

As Turkey gears up to respond to an influx of Syrian refugees as it continues to call on Syrian President Assad to cease human rights abuses and institute major reforms, the London School of Economics has released a report stating what is all the more obvious given Turkey's increasingly prominent role in the Arab spring. According to the newly released LSE report, "Turkey's influence and reach are certain to be central to the future of the economic and political development of the region as the revolutions responsible for overthrowing governments make the difficult transition to constructing them." For the full report, click here.

UPDATE I (6/9) -- Sabah reports (in Turkish) that the number of refugees arriving from Jisr al-Shughour now total over 400. According to the paper, the government has allocated 30 million Turkish Lira to deal with a wave of refugees it is expecting to total from 500,000 to one million persons. Prime Minister Erdogan has said the border will stay open. At the moment, Turkey is the only country to have an open border with Syria.

Additionally, refugees are giving Turkish authorities information that what Syria alleges was a massacre of 120 people by the opposition was instead a massacre of 120 people committed by Syrian security officials following a mutiny within the country's security apparatus.

UPDATE II (6/9) -- Refugees coming from Jisr al-Shughour are continuing to confirm stories that a mutiny occurred when Syrian security officials refused to do the regime's dirty work. From Hurriyet Daily News: A Syrian security officer who fled with the civilian refugees told the Hürriyet Daily News:
that they received an order by phone Friday to kill all the protesters in the town.

“We received a phone call from the center, and they ordered us to shoot and kill all the protesters,” said Ahmad Gavi, 21, a Syrian soldier who fled to Turkey following the deadly clashes in Jisr Al-Shughour.

“Five soldiers who refused to follow this order were killed immediately in front of me. Then commanders and some soldiers started to shoot each other,” Gavi said. “There were 180 soldiers at the security check post and 120 of them were killed.”

Gavi said he dropped his gun and ran away to Turkey as a refugee. “It was not the protesters who killed the soldiers, it was the commanders who killed them; most of the soldiers ran away with the protesters then,” he said, adding that there are 60 Syrian soldiers in the group that fled to Turkey.
Over 200 Syrians are reported to be hospitalized in Hatay. The narratives drastically increase the likelihood that Erdogan will strangthen the Turkish government's line with Assad. The National Security Council (MGK) is scheduled to meet after Sunday's elections.

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