ANKARA, (AFP) – Nearly 700 Syrian refugees poured into Turkey in 24 hours, bringing to more than 24,000 the total who have sought safety in the neighbouring country, a Turkish official said Saturday.
More than 9,000 people have died in Syria in more than a year of unrest, according to UN figures, as President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has cracked down on protesters and armed rebels, drawing international condemnation.
Fighting has raged on despite Damascus accepting an April 10 deadline to withdraw forces from protest hubs as part of a ceasefire plan brokered by the UN and Arab League peace envoy, former UN chief Kofi Annan.
Last week saw a record number of some 2,800 Syrians enter Turkey in a 36-hour period to escape a helicopter-backed assault by Syrian troops.
A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 699 refugees had now crossed the border in a single day. This brought the total to 24,324, according to official figures provided by the Ankara government.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Annan on Saturday he could visit whenever he wished “to see the situation of Syrian victims” fleeing the unrest, a foreign ministry diplomat told AFP.
Annan accepted the invitation in principle, said the diplomat.
The number of arrivals from Syria has doubled since Annan was appointed as special envoy on the Syrian crisis in February, Davutoglu had told Annan according to the diplomat.
The sharp surge has raised alarm in Turkey, which has urged the United Nations and international community to boost efforts to aid Syrian refugees.
“We have spared no efforts to accommodate Syrians fleeing the violence back home, but if they continue to arrive at this rate, we will need the UN and international community to step in,” Davutoglu said Friday.
Fleeing Syrians are mainly housed in the southeastern provinces of Hatay, Gaziantep and Kilis. More accommodation is being readied in Sanliurfa province, about midway along the 910 kilometre (560 mile) border with Syria.
Ankara, a former ally to Damascus, cut off contact with Assad and voiced support for the Syrian opposition and rebels after its calls for an immediate halt to bloodshed went unheeded by the regime.