GENEVA: More than 11,000 Syrians have fled into three neighboring countries in the past 24 hours alone, bringing the total number of registered Syrian refugees in the region to over 408,000, the UN said yesterday.
“The arrival of the last 24 hours is really the highest we have had in quite some time,” said Panos Moumtzis, the regional coordinator for the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR.
Over the past day, “we have received over 11,000 Syrian refugees in the neighboring countries,” he said following the 6th Syria Humanitarian Forum in Geneva, which groups different UN agencies’ aid efforts.
Moumtzis said some 9,000 had fled into Turkey, and around 1,000 into both Jordan and Lebanon.
This “brings the total number of registered (Syrian) refugees in the region to over 408,000,” he said.
More than 120,000 registered Syrian refugees are now sheltering in Turkish camps. Tens of thousands of unregistered Syrians are also living in Turkish border towns and villages.
A Turkish Foreign Ministry official had earlier put the latest influx at 8,000 — a single-day total that is sure to heighten Ankara’s concerns about the flood of refugees.
Turkey has long pushed for a foreign-protected safe zone inside Syria but the proposal has gained little international support. Ankara has become increasingly vocal in its frustration at the UN Security Council over its failure to take action.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan hit out again yesterday at the 15-nation Security Council.
“It is very strange. There are currently atrocities being committed in Syria and these atrocities are being directed by a state leader. While these atrocities are continuing ... there is a United Nations that is remaining silent toward it,” Erdogan said during a trip to Indonesia.
“How far will this go? When will the permanent members of the UN Security Council take responsibility? We are obliged to act together to counter this, otherwise we cannot refer to this world body as being democratic,” he said.
The latest exodus to Turkey is one of the largest on a single day since the start of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad began in March last year.
UNHCR said 1,000 Syrians had also fled to Lebanon and another 1,000 to Jordan, swelling the overall total who are registered or being assisted in the region to 408,000.
State-run Anatolian news agency said around 5,000 Syrians had crossed into Turkey’s Sanliurfa province overnight, fleeing fighting between rebels and Syrian government forces in the town of Ras Al-Ain just across the border in Syria.
Syrian rebels and opposition sources said late on Thursday Free Syrian Army fighters had captured Ras Al-Ain, an Arab and Kurdish town in the northeastern oil-producing province of Hasaka, but continuing clashes have been reported there.
Anatolian said 26 military officers, including two generals, had defected to Turkey overnight, marking the biggest mass desertion of senior soldiers from Assad’s forces in months.
The officers, among them two generals, 11 colonels, two lieutenant-colonels, two majors, four captains, and five lieutenants, crossed into the border province of Hatay with their families and other soldiers, making a total of 71 people.
They were taken to Apaydin camp in Hatay, where Turkey is sheltering other officers who have defected from Assad’s army. Defections of high-ranking officers to Turkey occurred almost daily during the summer but have since slowed.