Syrian refugee children receive aid distributed by an aid organization at the Zaatari refugee camp, located outside the northern Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, on August 15, 2012. (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEPPO—As the Syrian crisis reached its highest death toll to date, the UN security council are discussing a Turkish call for a safe haven inside Syria to protect the thousands of Syrian refugees who continue to flee the country daily.
Over 1,600 have been killed over the past week according to UNICEF, the highest weekly total since the revolution began in March last year.
Syria’s neighbors have been struggling to deal with an influx of refugees since the beginning of the conflict. Turkey was forced to close its borders to fleeing Syrians last week after its 11 refugee camps were filled beyond capacity with over 80,000 people, but Turkish authorities expressed doubt that the UN would agree to the plan.
"How long are we going to sit and watch while an entire generation is being wiped out by random bombardment and deliberate mass targeting?" Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a meeting with the UN in New York on Thursday, according to the Reuters news agency. "Let's not forget that if we do not act against such a crime against humanity happening in front of our eyes, we become accomplices to the crime."
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius agreed to the plan, pledging up to five million Euros in support for such areas if they were created.
"Maybe in these liberated zones Syrians who want to flee the regime will find refuge which in turn makes it less necessary to cross the border whether in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan or Iraq," Fabius said in a meeting with press following the UN conference.
Many areas controlled by the FSA come under daily airstrikes that cause hundreds to flee their homes.
In Aleppo’s main hospital, trauma surgeon Dr Osman al-Haj said 80 percent of the patients they receive are civilian.
“With civilians, most of the injuries are from mortar bombing and airplane bombing. The injuries are very complicated. Amputated limbs, severe head injuries. But the FSA injuries are generally either sniper shots to the head where they die directly or very simple injuries from bombing. This is because the FSA are protected – they stay inside the buildings, in the basements when there is an attack. But civilians are not protected and most of our patients are civilian.”
To secure a safe haven within Syria’s borders would require the enforcement of a no-fly zone by foreign aircraft, a move that has until now been blocked by Russia and China.
In the meantime, with Turkey’s borders still closed to refugees, thousands of families are left with no choice but to brave the destruction around them.
A group of women waiting in a bread line in Aleppo’s Hanano district said they are all afraid of the daily bombing.
“We want to leave,” said one woman, her 7-year-old daughter at her feet, “but my family have no passports. Where can we go?”
A few blocks away, another woman entered a FSA base to plea for a loan to pay her rent. When asked why she wanted to stay she replied, “They told me every tree on the Turkish border has a Syrian family camping under it already. If you want to go to the border, you better bring your own tree.”
Moments later the pounding of mortar fire sounds out along the street. As the sound moves closer, shops quickly close and pedestrians move indoors or under shelter.
Hospitals, mosques and bread factories, where dozens queue for hours, are increasingly becoming targets for mortar fire and air raids.
Iraq has also tightened security along its borders, permanently closing the border pass at al-Qa’im in Anbar province following an influx of Syrian refugees, according to a report released this week by security company AKE. The report went on to state that links between Sunni groups within Iraq and Syria’s rebel fighters who are also predominantly Sunni have threatened Iraq’s security.
“These links are being used to facilitate the smuggling of weapons and Iraqi fighters into Syria,” the report released on the AKE website said.
With Turkey and Iraq closing borders, the numbers of desperate families fleeing to Lebanon is on the increase. The UNHCR reported 2,200 new arrivals this week to Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, almost double the weekly average.
Jordan is also feeling the strain. Via the UNHCR, Jordan almost doubled their initial request for funding to cater for Syrian refugees from $400 million requested at the beginning of the week to $700 million.
And the Syrian crisis seems a long way from a resolution. Even President Bashar al-Assad conceded that the battle would be long in a vague statement during an interview with Addounia TV Thursday.
“Everyone hopes that the achievement or the resolution to be within weeks or days and hours,” he said. “This is illogical; we're involved in a regional and global battle, so time is needed to resolve it. But I can summarize all this explanation in a sentence: we are moving forward and the situation is practically better but resolution hasn't been achieved and this takes time.”