Numbers of Syrian Refugees Strain Neighboring Countries
August 28, 2012
by Dorian Jones, Lisa Schlein
ISTANBUL, GENEVA — The United Nations refugee agency says the number of Syrians fleeing to neighboring countries is swelling, signaling what could be an impending mass movement and a regional crisis.
In Jordan, 10,200 refugees arrived during the past week, twice as many as the week before. Jordan was already providing shelter to an estimated 150,000 Syrians.
Spokeswoman Melissa Fleming of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says the new arrivals at the Za'atri camp in northern Jordan are mainly from Syria's southern flashpoint area of Daraa. She says refugees reported "being bombed as they were trying to cross" the border.
"We do believe that this could be the start of a much larger influx into Jordan," she said. "People coming across, disturbingly, especially last Friday, are reported being bombed as they were trying to cross."
The U.N. agency also says up to 200,000 Syrians could flee to Turkey if the conflict continues to deepen. More than 3,000 fled to Turkey in the past 24 hours alone.
According to reports, as many as 10,000 Syrians are waiting at the Turkish border as authorities struggle to process and find shelter for them in Turkey's increasingly over-stretched refugee camps.
Turkey appeals for help
Despite new camps hastily being constructed, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday made an international appeal for help.
Davutoglu said Turkey is carrying out its humanitarian duties toward the Syrian people with whom it has historic brotherly ties. On the other hand, he said, the increasing numbers are becoming a burden that the international community must help share.
With fighting intensifying between Syria's government and rebels, the number of Syrians fleeing to Turkey has doubled in recent months to 80,000.
Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal says a solution to the crisis has to be found within Syria's borders.
"The U.N. or the international community should think or should look into ways of finding a secure environment for the Syrian people on the Syrian side of the territory," Unal said.
Ankara has been lobbying for the creation of safe haven areas, or a no-fly zone, for months. Despite having the largest and best equipped army in the region, Ankara is loathe to intervene unilaterally says Semih Idiz, diplomatic correspondent for the Turkish newspaper Milliyet.
"Most Turks consider Turkish intervention would be a quagmire, because it is very likely that this intervention on part of Turkey would require a major military component and there would no public support for Turkey to go unilaterally," Idiz said.
Crisis to worsen
As the refugee crisis is predicted to worsen regionally, concern is growing for young Syrian refugees.
A spokesman for the United Nations Children's Fund, Patrick McCormick, says it is not unusual to have growing numbers of unaccompanied refugee children in time of war.
McCormick said children often are separated from their families while fleeing to another country. Sometimes parents send them away on their own for reasons of safety.
He says UNICEF has a program in place in Jordan to try to find and reunite unaccompanied children with their parents.
In the meantime, he says the agency has established so-called friendly spaces where children can be looked after and are protected.
"They have suffered a lot of trauma and the best way for them to survive this period is to be in a safe place where there are things that they can do while they wait and hope that we can find their parents, relatives, families," McCormick said.
In ongoing violence, Syrian state television reported that 12 people were killed and nearly 50 wounded in a car bomb explosion at a funeral on the outskirts of Damascus.
The blast took place in the Druze and Christian suburb of Jaramana. An activist group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the funeral was being held for two government supporters killed in a bomb attack on Monday.
In Tehran, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told reporters at a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement that member nations have condemned sanctions imposed against Syria by the West and some other countries. He also warned countries not to support Syrian rebels, who he called "terrorists."
"Any support by any foreign country of the terrorists in Syria is absolutely condemned, and we tell them that once you support terrorism in Syria it will come back to your own country," Mekdad said.
Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported that Syrian military helicopters dropped thousands of leaflets over Damascus and its suburbs Tuesday, urging rebels to hand over their weapons or be killed.
The AP said some of the leaflets read "The Syrian army is determined to cleanse every inch in Syria and you have only two choices: abandon your weapons ... or face inevitable death.''
Syrian authorities blame the 17-month uprising on a foreign conspiracy and accuse oil-rich Gulf countries Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in addition to the United States and Turkey, of backing "terrorists" seeking to oust the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Jones reported from Istanbul, Schlein reported from Geneva.
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