UN Syria envoy Brahimi visits Syrian refugees in Turkey


The international peace envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi on Tuesday met Syrians staying at a Turkish refugee camp in his first encounter since taking over the mission from his frustrated predecessor.
The UN/Arab League envoy met representatives of some 1,300 Syrians at Altinozu camp in Hatay city, located on the border with their violence-racked homeland.
Crowds of Syrians welcomed Brahimi into Altinozu, marching in groups and chanting slogans against the embattled Damascus regime: “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.
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.
Brahimi’s one-day visit to Turkey follows a stopover in Cairo Monday, which hosted a “contact group” meeting involving high-level representatives from Egypt, Iran and Turkey, as he seeks ways to end the bloodbath in Syria.
The envoy met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the first time on Saturday, warning after the talks that the worsening conflict in Syria posed a threat to the region and the whole world.
Brahimi’s visits come as the head of a UN commission tasked with probing abuses in Syria said that serious human rights violations have soared in recent weeks.
“Gross violations of human rights have grown in number, in pace and in scale,” Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the head of the United Nations’ Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, told diplomats in Geneva on Monday.
Last month, the clashes in and around Syria’s second biggest city Aleppo sent heavy waves of refugees, fleeing by the thousand daily into Turkey, whose border lies just 70 kilometres (40 miles) away from the battleground.
Turkey, which threw its support behind Brahimi’s mission, is already home to 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.