Turkey urged the United Nations on Wednesday to protect displaced Syrians inside their country but President Bashar al-Assad, battling rebels determined to overthrow him, dismissed talk of a buffer zone on Syrian territory.
Ankara fears a mass influx such as the flight of half a million Iraqi Kurds into Turkey after the 1991 Gulf War, and has floated the idea of a “safe zone” under foreign protection within Syria for civilians fleeing intensifying violence.
“We expect the United Nations to engage on the topic of protecting refugees inside Syria and if possible sheltering them in camps there,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.
France has supported Turkey’s call for a safe zone in Syria, and pressure for action increased after the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday Syria’s refugee exodus was accelerating. Up to 200,000 people could settle in Turkey alone if the conflict worsens, the UNHCR said.
While Turkey frames the issue as refugee protection, it’s very clear this would be a significant military operation — the notion of “safe zones” inside Syrian territory have been the key policy advocated by supporters of intervention against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Turkey’s principal concern is most likely limiting refugee flows into its own territory, which have escalated significantly in recent months as the conflict has:
The waves of refugees fleeing Dara’a, the Damascus suburbs, Aleppo and the Idlib region near Turkey in recent days have provided a barometer of the escalating violence in the 18-month-old conflict, in which neither the government of President Bashar al-Assad nor the opposition seems capable of striking a decisive blow.
[A U.N. spokesperson] said the number of refugees escaping to Turkey had multiplied to 5,000 a day from 400 or 500 daily several weeks ago. In the past 24 hours, she said, 3,000 people had entered Turkey, with 10,000 more waiting.
In Turkey, which had said it would not accept more than 100,000 refugees, officials said they had revised the number to 120,000, and were preparing contingency plans for more.
Speaking about the conflict, Assad told his state run TV station today that “[the army] definitely needs time to bring it to a decisive end. But I can sum it up in one sentence: we’re heading forward.” Meanwhile, his air force has stepped up strikes against rebel forces without much regard for civilian casualties.