ANTAKYA: Turkey will not close its doors to hundreds of refugees fleeing repression in Syria, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday, voicing concern at growing unrest across the border.
Increasingly critical of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, Erdogan also urged Damascus to show more tolerance towards its civilians.
He was speaking in Ankara after some 120 Syrian refugees crossed over into Turkey late Tuesday. Another 160 followed on Wednesday, bringing to at least 550 the number to enter the country in recent days.
At least 5,000 Syrian refugees have also arrived in northern Lebanon since April. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said the exodus was “of enormous concern”.
Guterres, speaking in Stockholm, stressed the need to help those fleeing to both countries.
A Turkish-Syrian refugee support group says it has recorded 89 injured people in Turkish hospitals since May 20.
Most of the latest groups to enter Turkey had fled the northwestern Syrian town of Jisr al-Shughur, fearing a backlash after officials said 120 policemen had been killed there.
Erdogan, speaking to reporters, said that there were no plans to stem any flow of refugees crossing into southern Turkey.
“At this point, it is out of question for us to close the doors,” Erdogan was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.
“The developments in Syria are really sad, we are following them with concern,” he added, reiterating a call for Assad to implement more democratic reforms.
“We wish Syria to be more tolerant to civilians and (further) the reform steps he has already taken, as soon as possible in a more convincing way.”
But the influx has prompted fears among Turkish officials that the country may not be able to cope, and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the NTV news channel Wednesday that a wave of refugees was “absolutely not desirable.”
”We have taken all the necessary precautions at the border,” he said, adding that the situation was currently “under control.”Some 60 Syrians, mostly adult men, crossed into Turkey through barbed wire at the border near the village of Guvecci in the Mediterranean province of Hatay.
Turkish security forces were seen escorting the group farther into Turkish territory, where two ambulances waited on stand-by.
Three of the refugees were wounded, Turkish villagers said. They were to be taken to hospital, while the others were expected to be transported to a tent city, set up by the Turkish Red Crescent, in the nearby town of Yayladagi.
A second group of some 100, mostly women and children, arrived later Wednesday in Karbeyaz village, 30 kilometres north of Guvecci, and were taken to Yayladagi.
A group of 122 people, mostly women and children, had crossed the border at Karbeyaz late Tuesday, following some 40 who arrived at the weekend, one of whom died from gunshot wounds on his way to a Turkish hospital.
Back in April, Turkey also offered shelter to more than 200 villagers who crossed over by breaking through the barbed wire along the 800-kilometre (500-mile) long border.
Erdogan, who has traditionally enjoyed good relations with Assad, has piled pressure on the Syrian leader in recent weeks to initiate a democratic transition while stopping short of calling for his departure.