Thousands of Syrians find refuge in Turkey
Many are sharing stories of violence during crackdown
GUVECCI, Turkey — Syrians streamed across the border yesterday into neighboring Turkey, finding sanctuary in refugee camps ringed by barbed wire and offering a frightening picture of life back home, where a deadly crackdown on dissent is fueling a popular revolt.
Turkey’s prime minister has accused Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime of “savagery,’’ but has also said he would reach out to the Syrian leader to help solve the crisis. Still, many of the nearly 7,000 refugees in Turkey say they expect their government to inflict only more violence and pain.
Refugees were pouring across the border to flee a crackdown Sunday that sent elite forces backed by helicopters and tanks into Jisr al-Shughour, a northern town that spun out of government control for a week. Troops led by Assad’s brother regained control of Jisr al-Shughour on Sunday, and residents ran for their lives.
In Guvecci, two Syrians gave a bleak picture of life across the frontier.
“There are 7,000 people across the border; more and more women and children are coming toward the barbed wires,’’ said Abu Ali, who left Jisr al-Shughour. “Jisr is finished. It is razed.’’
Other refugees said the military is killing soldiers who refuse orders to fire on protesters.
“Assad’s men are killing anyone within the military, police or others who don’t obey their orders blindly,’’ said a man who gave his name as Abu Ali. Another, who gave his name as Ammar, had a similar allegation.
Turkey and Syria once nearly went to war, but the two countries have cultivated warm relations in recent years, lifting travel visa rules for their citizens and promoting business ties.
The countries share a 520-mile border, which includes several Syrian provinces. Refugees and relatives on both sides appeared to be crossing unimpeded around the village of Guvecci.
Syrian refugees staged open-air noon prayers behind wire fences yesterday at the Boynuyogun refugee camp inside Turkey. At another camp in the town of Altinozu, refugee families flashed V for victory signs as police guarded their compound.
Turkish authorities have blocked the media from entering the camps. Turkey appears to be trying to limit the publicity of the crisis even as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who won a landslide victory in Sunday’s general elections, says he will speak to Assad soon.
Despite their support of NATO intervention in Libya, Arab governments have not responded to Syria’s crackdown, fearing the chaos that could follow Assad’s fall. The country has a potentially explosive sectarian mix and is seen as a regional powerhouse with influence on events in neighboring Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq.
A reported mutiny in Jisr al-Shughour posed one of the most serious threats to the Assad regime since protests against his rule began in mid-March. Assad has made some concessions, but thousands of people demonstrating weekly — inspired by protests in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere — say they will not stop until he leaves power.
The Local Coordination Committees, a group that documents the protests, said government snipers have killed at least 10 people in the nearby village of Ariha in the past two days.
Syria’s government has said 500 members of the security forces have died, including 120 last week in Jisr al-Shughour, although it has denied a mutiny. About 1,400 Syrians have died and 10,000 have been detained in the government crackdown since mid-March, activists say.
Yesterday, Syria imposed a travel ban on one of the president’s cousins, a move that appeared to be an attempt to show Assad is serious about investigating the bloodshed.
State-run SANA news agency says the ban was imposed on Brigadier General Atef Najib, who ran the security department in the southern province of Daraa. The uprising erupted there in mid-March after the arrest of 15 teenagers who scrawled antigovernment graffiti.