Syrians flee to Turkey

The media today is full of stories from the thousands of refugees who have fled Syria across the border into Turkey, many of them it seems from the town of Jisr al-Shughur in northwest Syria. Bloomberg News reports that there are now over 6,800 people living in tent cities in the province of Hatay; UNHCR says around 5,000 people have fled across the border. Hundreds more, it seems, are waiting near the border to see what happens next, and will cross into Turkey if the army advances further.

This town was reportedly ‘retaken’ by the Syrian army yesterday.  Many of the witnesses interviewed by UK media say that tanks and soldiers fired indiscriminately.

The authorities are saying that the army was sent to tackle violent extremists who have killed up to 120 soldiers. Locals have said that the soldiers were in fact killed by the army after they refused to fire upon peaceful protesters.

With foreign journalists barred from Syria, it’s difficult to get accurate reports from the country. However the locals’ stories resemble previous reports that Amnesty has documented, such as the testimony of a Syrian soldier last week who had been sent to quell a protest at Harasta in April. Around 250 soldiers had been told by officers to confront a “violent gang” but what they found were around 2,000 unarmed protesters, including children and women. Many of the men were bare-chested to show that they carried no weapons. Many of the protesters, he told us, were carrying roses.

The Times’ James Bone, based on the Turkey-Syria border, reports that “boys acting as spotters for local residents say that the Syrian army has moved closer to the border and is currently bombarding the village of Al Gasania, about five miles from the Turkish frontier”. (You’ll need to scale the Times paywall to read his report, I’m afraid).

Amnesty International’s Syria researcher Neil Sammonds is also there in Turkey near the border, and will be tweeting from his @NeilSai Twitter account, when he gets time between recording testimonies from those who’ve fled. Most recently he tweeted:

Hospitalised Syrians in Hatay confirm regime killings of peaceful protesters at Jisr al-Shughur, tanks & shabiha vs villages & army splits

I've just read Neil's new blog, in which he tells the stories of three men he interviewed in the hospital – one of them a Red Crescent ambulance worker from Jisr al-Shughur, who described how he was shot in the back by security forces while attending to an injured person in the centre of the town.

It’s a situation that we’ll be monitoring as closely as possible. There’s clearly the potential for wide scale abuses of human rights, not to mention the humanitarian issues associated with such a large influx of refugees into Turkey.

Turkey has some claims on the news agenda itself, of course, having just re-elected Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This piece from the BBC’s Jonathan Head looks at some of the issues that Turkey now faces – not least concerns about freedom of expression, with many journalists behind bars after criticising the government.

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