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September 13, 2012

Turkey Shifts Syrian Refugees from Borders

by Henry Ridgwell

Turkey has begun moving some of the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees on its soil away from the border area. United Nations officials, including actress Angelina Jolie, visited one of the refugee camps Thursday.

The Kilis camp next to Turkey’s border with Syria is home to almost 12,000 refugees.

The visit by U.N. refugee special envoy and Hollywood star Angelina Jolie put the refugees’ plight back in the headlines - but many residents, like father of four Abu Omer, were skeptical.

He says that he doesn't expect anything from the United Nations. He predicts "nothing will come of it" as U.N. officials "have come here many times but nothing changed.”

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres called on other countries to help.

“Countries like Turkey, like Lebanon, like Jordan, also like Iraq are making an enormous effort," he said. "They are showing enormous solidarity and they deserve also the solidarity with the international community.”

That’s a view shared by Turkey.
 
​​An estimated 80,000 refugees are living in 10 camps close to the border. Some 30,000 to 40,000 Syrians are believed to be living outside the camps in Turkey, many with relatives or in private rented accommodations in cities like Antakya.

Turkey has begun trying to move those refugees either into the camps or away from the border region.

“Turkey and other neighboring countries, especially Jordan, are not getting enough international assistance to share the burden of this," said Selcuk Unal, a spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry. "We are not asking them to leave the country but local authorities could of course take some steps from time to time to arrange accommodation of these people in order to let all the provinces in Turkey to have a more equal burden share.”

Turkey initially tried to deal with the crisis without outside help, says Turkey specialist Katerina Dalacoura of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“They have realized that they have bitten off more than they could chew in this particular case. In other words they cannot on their own deal with this problem as they thought they could,” she said.

As Kurds have taken control of much of the northeast of Syria, Dalacoura says the conflict is spilling into Turkey.

“The lack of control from the center, Damascus that is, has led to a flare up of violence within Turkey through the Kurdish areas which have been becoming more of free-for-all for Kurdish activists,” she said.

Syrians are continuing to flee their homes and their country. Amateur footage posted on the Internet, reportedly filmed in Aleppo on Wednesday, shows families fleeing with suitcases as gunfire rings out across the city.

The U.N. estimates a quarter of a million people have fled Syria. Many analysts say that the scale of the exodus could soon force the international community to act. But with military intervention unlikely, there appears little chance the refugees can return home anytime soon.