Refugee exodus raises Syria buffer zone pressure

There is increased pressure for the creation of a buffer zone in Syria as the refugee exodus accelerates.

The head of a UN mission warned of "civil war" in Syria after his observers counted more than 92 bodies, 32 of them children on 26 May, 2012. Picture: AFP

BAB AL-SALAMEH - Syria's refugee exodus is accelerating and up to 200,000 people could settle in Turkey alone if the conflict worsens, the United Nations warned on Tuesday, increasing pressure for creation of a buffer zone inside Syria.

Turkey has floated the idea of a "safe zone" to be set up for civilians under foreign protection as fighting has intensified in a 17-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Up to 5,000 refugees a day have been crossing into Turkey over the past two weeks while the pace of refugees arriving at a camp in northern Jordan has doubled, heralding what could be a much bigger movement there, the U.N. refugee agency said.

Although there is no sign divided world powers are ready to back a buffer and no-fly zone, as rebels and aid organisations would like, U.N. Security Council foreign ministers are expected to discuss the idea at a meeting on Thursday.

While Turkey could in theory create a buffer zone itself, it has said it is reluctant to go it alone.

Already hosting more than 80,000 refugees, Turkey has warned it could run out of space if the number goes above 100,000.

"We are already looking at potentially up to 200,000 and are working with the Turkish government to make the necessary plans," Sybella Wilkes, spokeswoman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told Reuters in Geneva.

Turkey fears the presence of refugees fleeing a conflict with a sectarian dimension could worsen its own tensions as well as straining resources.

Turkey will open four new camps for Syrian refugees by next week, bringing its capacity to 120,000 people, its disaster management agency said, but thousands remain stuck inside Syria.

"We will be asking the United Nations to be more active in terms of helping the Syrians on their side of the border," said one Turkish official, who declined to be named. He complained that Turkey had received little help so far.

Relations between Turkey and Syria have deteriorated sharply during the uprising. Syria accuses its neighbour, hosting rebel forces, of backing 'terrorist' infiltration and shot down a Turkish plane in June.