Turkey slams Damascus, refrains from calling fleeing Syrians 'refugees'
ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 6/10/2011 12:00:00 AM | SEVİL KÜÇÜKKOŞUM
Turkey has ramped up its criticism of Syria's military operations near the Turkish border as officials refrain from identifying fleeing Syrians as 'refugees.'
Turkey has ramped up its criticism of Damascus over Syria’s military operations near the Turkish border as officials refrain from identifying fleeing Syrians as “refugees” or “asylum-seekers.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused Syria on Friday of perpetrating an “atrocity” against anti-regime protesters as a new offensive threatened to increase the flow of refugees crossing the border.
“Unfortunately they do not behave humanely,” Erdoğan said in remarks carried by the Anatolia news agency, slamming the treatment of the bodies of women slain by Syrian security forces as an “atrocity.”
“I talked to [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] four or five days ago,” said Erdoğan, a personal friend of the Syrian leader. “But they underestimate the situation. Based on all this we cannot insist on [defending] Syria,” he added.
It was Turkey’s harshest reaction yet to the Syrian turmoil, which has forced more than 3,000 people to seek refuge across the border in Turkey. Erdoğan had earlier piled pressure on al-Assad to initiate reform, but stopped short of calling for his departure.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also expressed Ankara’s irritation to Damascus over the military operations. “We have gotten information that [Syrian] security forces intend to launch military operations in that region. We keep in contact [with Damascus]. We hope this environment of clashes will end immediately and we hope there will not be any initiatives causing the loss of civilian lives,” Davutoğlu told reporters Friday in the Central Anatolia province of Konya.
Turkey’s president also warned Damascus that “civilian losses are increasing.”
“We have done all our preparations in civil and military means,” President Abdullah Gül told reporters Friday, adding that Ankara was monitoring developments in Syria with daily intelligence reports.
The number of Syrians fleeing bloodshed and crossing into Turkey had exceeded 3,000 by Friday night. Turkish officials said they are seen as “guests” by Ankara and not identified as “refugees” or “asylum-seekers” so as not to incur future obligations.
“Turkey identifies Syrians [who are sheltered in Hatay province] as guests. We are providing shelter out of humanitarian considerations. We can’t perceive them as refugees or asylum-seekers. We hope they will be able to return to their homes,” a Turkish official told reporters Friday.
Though Turkey aims to harbor Syrians, it is not an open-ended policy. Officials, however, have refrained from giving further information on potential alternative scenarios. “We cannot close our doors to those Syrians trying to escape from violence. But how long we keep the doors open is another question,” Erdoğan said late Thursday, speaking on the private channel ATV.
A preparation for a “safe haven” on the border for fleeing Syrians was “not necessary at the moment,” a Turkish official said, adding that Turkey does not currently need international support in order to harbor Syrians.
“We could shelter 800,000 people in the past,” the official said, citing the influx of Iraqis during the first Gulf War in 1991. “Turkey’s resources were capable of handling that massive inflow of people.”
A center for coordinating communications has been set up, in part to help fleeing Syrians get in touch with their families, and a team from the Foreign Ministry is also in the region. “We keep in contact with Syrian authorities on the issue of measures that should be taken,” the Turkish official said.
“All the entries across the Turkish border are under control. Their identifications are checked and temporary ration cards are given out,” he said, adding that none of the would-be crossers has yet been identified as affiliated with any terrorist organization.
Three camps, Yayladağı, Altınözü and Boynuyoğun, have been established and 750,000 Turkish Liras has been sent to the Hatay governor’s office to respond to humanitarian needs. Most of the 600 tents were still empty, the official said. Six thousand blankets, 3,000 beds and portable kitchens and baths were ready in the camps and 60 Syrians are receiving medical treatment in Turkey.
The Turkish government has not yet asked for support from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, in Turkey, spokesman Metin Çorabatır has said. He said the Turkish government had not notified UNHCR Turkey about any Syrians seeking refuge.
As the Syrian administration keeps up its bloody assault on protesters, Ankara has signaled that it is shifting ground on its support to al-Assad.
The administration of Syria was “not acting in a humane fashion,” Prime Minister Erdoğan said in his interview Thursday. Noting that the United Nations Security Council was working on Syria, he added: “In the face of violence, we cannot continue to support Syria. We do have relatives living in Syria.”
He stressed that the Syrian issue was not like Libya for Turkey. “I heard that around 2,500 Syrians are about to enter Turkey. I spoke with al-Assad four to five days ago about the situation there. But they are underestimating this. They tell us different things. They are not acting in a humane fashion,” Erdoğan said.