HATAY, Turkey — The international peace envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi yesterday said he hoped for peace in Syria and an early return home for Syrian refugees, after he met them at a Turkish refugee camp.
The UN/Arab league envoy met representatives of 1,300 Syrians at Altinozu camp in Hatay city, located on the border with their violence-racked homeland, in his first encounter since taking over the mission from his frustrated predecessor.
“We hope that their country will find peace again and that they can return to their country as early as possible,” Brahimi said at a meeting with Turkish local officials.
The veteran Algerian diplomat said he was visiting refugee camps in Syrian neighbours to brief the United Nations on the gravity of the situation for the homeless Syrians, according to a Turkish official involved in the meetings.
He was welcomed into Altinozu by large crowds of refugees, as many marched in groups and chanted slogans against the embattled Damascus government: “Free Syria! We will fight till freedom!”
Brahimi was also briefed by Turkish officials at the local governor’s office on the conditions of the refugees and their needs, an issue raised by Ankara government as needing international support.
The Altinozu camp is one of the first refugee camps set up by Turkey soon after the unrest erupted in Syria mid-March 2011, which has already killed 20,000 according to UN figures and forced 250,000 to flee into neighbouring countries.
The envoy said he knew the Syrian refugees were “welcome and extremely well treated in Turkey in general” and praised Turkish efforts in providing for the needs of the ever-growing number it has been sheltering since last year.
Earlier this month, Brahimi took over what he branded a “nearly impossible” mission from former UN chief Kofi Annan, whose hard-sought six point peace plan became a dead letter.
When he visited in April, Annan went round another refugee camp and called on Damascus to comply with his ceasefire plan, a call which went unheeded and led to his resignation in August.
A group of Syrian refugees threw stones at Brahimi’s convoy yesterday as he left the Zaatari camp in Jordan where he pledged help despite the “worsening” conflict.
“Unfortunately, the situation in Syria is not likely to improve,” Brahimi said during a brief visit to the camp in northern Jordan close to the Syrian border.
“It is worsening. It is heading towards more deterioration,” he said. “I am trying my best to help the Syrian refugees get out of this crisis.”
A small crowd of angry refugees pelted his motorcade with stones as he left.
“Brahimi out! Brahimi out!” they chanted.
A security official said that around 200 refugees took part in the demonstration.
“They said they were angry because he met Syrian President Bashar al Assad and tried to give him a chance to kill more people, according to them,” the official said.
Last month, fighting in and around Syria’s second biggest city Aleppo sent waves of refugees by the thousand daily across the border, only 70 km from the battleground.
Turkey, which threw its support behind Brahimi’s mission, already shelters some 83,000 registered refugees in several camps in the southeast region bordering Syria, but has said it can handle no more than 100,000 refugees.
As the numbers keep growing and approach that threshold, Ankara has called for safe zones to be established to protect people on Syrian soil. But that proposal fell on deaf ears at a UN Security Council meeting last month. — AFP