Turkey and Jordan say they are close to being overwhelmed by numbers fleeing conflict, as UN and charities plead for help
More than 11,000 refugees fled Syria on Friday, in what is thought to be the highest daily exodus since the insurrection began 19 months ago.
At least 9,000 of those fleeing the unrelenting violence in Syria headed for Turkey and Jordan, who are both warning that refugee numbers could soon overwhelm them.
The first large winter storm of the season made the journey miserable for the new arrivals in Turkey. Torrential rain along much of the eastern Mediterranean coast is not forecast to let up throughout the weekend, after which temperatures are expected to sharply chill.
The onset of winter poses a new and dangerous dimension to the looming humanitarian crisis on Syria’s borders. Many of the 400,000 registered refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq are now living in makeshift tents with few belongings. The International Committee for the Red Cross warned that it was struggling to cope with the scale of the exodus.
A senior United Nations official warned that as many as 4 million Syrians would need humanitarian assistance by early next year. John Ging, director of operations at the UN office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs said: “If the current rate of conflict continues at the current pace we can reasonably project that numbers in need to rise from 2.5 million to 4 million by the early new year.”
Turkey, which is expected to bear the brunt of the refugee flood said it feared being overwhelmed as winter draws near. The Turkish prime minister, Recap Tayyip Erdoğan, hit out at the 15-member UN security council, accusing it of of being impotent to stop an unfolding tragedy. “It is very strange. There are currently atrocities being committed in Syria and these atrocities are being directed by a state leader,” he said during a trip to Indonesia. “While these atrocities are continuing … there is a United Nations that is remaining silent towards it. How far will this go? When will the permanent members of the UN security council take responsibility?”
Britain this week stepped up its rhetoric against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, for the first time signalling it is willing to talk to members of the armed opposition. Prime Minister David Cameron also reitereated an offer to facilitate exile for Assad, who also this week claimed Syria was not in state of civil war and was instead under attack by foreigners.
Meanwhile, fractious discussions to form a new opposition body that would pose an alternative administration to the Assad regime appear to have inched forward on Friday. Under threat of being sidelined by the Arab League and already deeply reluctant western backers, the Syrian National Council, said it would not leave a meeting in the Qatari capital, Doha, without forming a new representative body.
The mooted new body would attempt to emulate the Transitional National Council, which took over Libya in the wake of the ousting of Colonel Muamar Gaddafi’s regime. Both the political and military sides of Syria’s opposition have been increasingly fragmented as the civil war in Syria has developed.
The architects of the new body say it needs to be more inclusive and dynamic than the SNC, representing a united political and military leadership and laying the foundations for a civil society in Syria if Assad falls.