ANTAKYA, Turkey — In Karbeyaz, a town surrounded by olive trees and grain fields, white vans race to and fro, packed with scared and tired looking men, women and children.
About 2,400 Syrian refugees have crossed into Turkey in the last 48 hours, fleeing a violent government crackdown in Jisr al-Shoughour, a mainly Sunni town of 45,000 residents in Northern Syria.
Syria’s army on Friday began operations to “restore security” to Jisr al-Shughur, where the government says 120 policeman were killed this week by “armed gangs.” Residents from the area said, however, that it was Syrian troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad who had been firing on civilians.
At a Red Crescent run refugee camp in Yayladagi, a district on the Turkish side of the border, children played while their mothers sat in quiet groups, catching shade from the scorching sun. Police patrolled the area diligently, shoeing away journalists. The latest reports are that access to the Syrian refugees has been completely closed off to journalists by the Turkish authorities. It’s probably not a coincidence that Turkey’s national elections are just two days away and the ruling party is hoping for a two-thirds parliamentary majority, which would allow them to make many changes to the country’s constitution.
Though refugees are locked up in the equivalent of a makeshift prison, there appears to be a sense of relief and calm inside. On Friday afternoon, a group of men and boys held up homemade signs thanking Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and chanting, “Down with Assad!”
The nearby hospital in Antakya is now guarded by Turkish security, but journalists who managed to visit three day ago said they saw more than 20 Syrian patients with gunshot wounds and other injuries.
Turkish authorities told reporters that they planned to construct at least one more camp, anticipating the arrival of many more refugees.
Marches with thousands of demonstrators continue throughout Syria, despite reform pledges by Assad. Rights groups say that more than 1,200 people have so far been killed by security forces since the protests began in mid-March.