Syria Refugee Crisis

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. A humanitarian crisis is growing along Syria's border with Turkey. More than 5,000 Syrian refugees have crossed the border. They've fled the violence in the region around Jisr al-Shughour.

REFUGEE: [Speaking in Arabic]

WERMAN: This Syrian refugee in Turkey says that there is no food left in his village and that the army has poisoned the water. Thousands of other Syrians are waiting on the Syrian side of the border. This man is sheltering his family in a tent.

REFUGEE: [Speaking in Arabic]

WERMAN: He says there is no milk for the children. We bought some, but we have run out. He adds, shooters are targeting homes. Yesterday, they targeted us. Some of us will not survive because they burned all of our crops. The continuing crack-down in Syria is sending more refugees into Turkey. Suat Kiniklioglu is a Deputy Chairman of External Affairs of Turkey's AK Party, which remains in power after elections yesterday. He's in Ankara. Mr. Kiniklioglu says the Turks have set up two camps along the border.

SUAT KINIKLIOGLU: Right now, we are capable of hosting about 8,000 refugees from Syria. Obviously, this is not something we desire or look forward to, but Prime Minister Erdogan has been clear that Turkey will not close its borders if there would be an influx of refugees. We are providing them with food, shelter, and health services. So far, there is no problem, but, obviously, we are not looking forward to having more refugees, which would mean that the Syrian regime is continuing to use violence against its own citizens.

WERMEN: Right, and just to clarify, you said that Prime Minister Erdogan said that he will not close the border, despite the number of refugees that comes over?

KINIKLIOGLU: No, we will not close the border, and I am expecting Prime Minister Erdogan to speak to President Assad either today or tomorrow in order to urge him to take a much softer approach to the events in Northern Syria.

WERMEN: Well, I mean, Turkey shares a large border with Syria. Your government must be pretty alarmed by what's happening in Syria and the impact this flow of refugees is going to have - could have - on Turkey.

KINIKLIOGLU: Yes, indeed, we are concerned. We have a 900 kilometers-long border with Syria and, obviously, Syria is an important country in the Middle East. Not only the humanitarian aspect of the crisis, but also the political ramifications of what might happen in Syria is quite worrying to the regional countries as well as Turkey.

WERMEN: What can you tell us, sir, about what these people coming across the border have been saying about the violence they've witnessed back in Syria? What have you been told?

KINIKLIOGLU: Well, luckily, we didn't have a lot of injured people, but it appears that there seems to be some indiscriminate violence against villagers and people who live in Norther Syria in some sort of reprisal: tanks rolling in and firing at citizens indiscriminately. So, it's quite worrying, however, as I said, Turkey will continue to extend its humanitarian relief as much as its capacity will allow.

WERMEN: You know, Prime Minister Erdogan has worked hard to build a strong relationship with Syria over the last couple of years. Now the Prime Minister is saying the Syrian government has committed atrocities against its own people. Will statements like these strain the relationship between Syria and Turkey to the breaking point?

KINIKLIOGLU: Well, we hope it will not, but there is no doubt that the relationship has become more tense, given Prime Minister Erdogan's clear disapproval of what's happening in Syria. However, we will continue to use any influence we have over Syria to try to prevent the continuation of such violence and we hope that the Syrian regime will be more amiable and able to listen to what we're saying.

WERMEN: Prime Minister Erdogan has been vocal up to this point. What's next? When Egypt was in turmoil, Prime Minister Erdogan urged Mr. Mubarak there to step down. Will he urge Syrian President Assad to step down?

KINIKLIOGLU: I don't think we are there yet, but, as you know, we had an election yesterday so the country was focused on the general election, which is over now and I expect Prime Minister Erdogan to engage more intentionally with the issue and I said earlier, I think he will call President Assad and talk to him and urge restrait.

WERMEN: Suat Kiniklioglu, Deputy Chairman of External Affairs for Turkey's ruling AK Party. Thanks for speaking with us.