Monday, July 23, 2012

17 detained after eventful protests in Syrian refugee camp

Seventeen people were detained on Monday after riots broke out at a refugee camp for Syrians in southeastern Anatolia, during which four Syrians and four members of the Turkish security forces were injured.

The clashes erupted when a group of about 1,500 Turkmen refugees arrived at the camp, near the town of Islahiye, on Sunday from the Syrian city of Latakia, President Bashar al-Assad’s hometown, news reports have said. It was not immediately clear why the group’s arrival sparked clashes, although it may be a sign of ethnic tensions between Syrian Arabs and Turkic-speaking Turkmens or linked to the fact that the Turkmens were from Assad’s hometown.

While the incident was in progress, several Syrian refugees took down a Turkish flag at the entrance to the Islahiye camp, putting up a Syrian flag in its place, according to Turkish media.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Islahiye District Governor Osman Beyazyıldız denied that the Syrian refugees had taken down the Turkish flag, saying instead that the Syrians only hoisted a Syrian flag at the camp’s entrance. This was followed by local residents of Islahiye stepping in, removing the Syrian flag and hoisting a Turkish one instead, according to Beyazyıldız’s account.

Television footage showed armored personnel carriers entering the camp and police firing weapons into the air to disperse groups of men fighting each other with fists and clubs. CNN Türk television reported that several Turkish police officers were briefly taken hostage.

Beyazyıldız said the 17 people who were responsible for the incident have been detained and an investigation has been launched to determine if others were involved in provoking the incident. He did not say if those detained were Syrians.

“Several incidents have been provoked here under the excuse of the arrival of Turkmen people, but this is not the reality. Similar events organized by certain groups have also erupted at the Kilis and Hatay camps,” he said. “Groups who want to achieve certain undesirable goals are provoking these events,” the district governor said without elaborating.

Favzi Zakri, a member of the Syrian National Council (SNC), has also denied the events are related to fighting between Syrian Turkmen refugees and other Syrian refugees. Zakri told Today’s Zaman during a telephone interview on Monday that the incidents actually amount to clashes between the newly arrived Syrian Turkmens and Turkish gendarmerie forces.

Security measures have been stepped up following Sunday’s events in Islahiye, including the deployment of armored vehicles around the tent city. A group of some 429 Syrian Turkmens have also been temporarily moved to the Fevzipaşa İMKB Regional Primary Boarding School (YİBO). Repairs to the sections of several army buildings that were damaged during the incident have also started.
A group of 79 refugees who were on their way to the Islahiye tent city from Hatay have also returned to Hatay due to a lack of space at the Islahiye camp.

The clashes come amid high tensions due to difficult living conditions in the refugee camps along the Turkish-Syrian border resulting from high temperatures, frequent disruptions to the water supply and poverty. In the province of Kilis, police also used tear gas to disperse a group of refugees angry about food and water shortages and who were throwing stones at police. No serious injuries were reported at the camp.

A source with the Prime Ministry’s Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) told Today’s Zaman that they are listening to the problems of refugees in the camps and that a detailed report on the refugees’ situation will be prepared soon.

More than 43,000 Syrian refugees are registered in Turkey, according to the latest reports by AFAD. Some refugees have complained about conditions at the camps, including a lack of food.

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