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Turkey to set up refugee camp for Christians near Syrian border

By on Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A boy rides his bicycle past damaged buildings in Syria (Photo: CNS)

A boy rides his bicycle past damaged buildings in Syria (Photo: CNS)

Christians escaping the two-year civil war in Syria will soon have their own humanitarian aid camp, the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey has said.

AFAD, as the agency is known, oversees the country’s humanitarian relief efforts. It said the separate camp for Christians is being built near Mor Abraham Syriac Monastery near the Turkish town of Midyat, about 30 miles from the Turkish-Syrian border.

The US bishops’ Catholic Relief Services reported in March that approximately 200 Syrian Christian refugees in that area were sheltering in local churches and were afraid to go to the other 17 relief camps on the border, where Turkey’s government is providing humanitarian assistance to an estimated 200,000 refugees, most of them Syrian Sunni Muslims.

A UN spokesman in Turkey said the decision to build the Christian camp is most probably the result of recent meetings between Turkish government and church officials.

“A month ago, some churches met with the Turkish foreign minister, and they requested that for Christians it would be better to open another camp,” Metin Corabatir, the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Turkey, said.

The patriarchal vicar of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Turkey, Father Francois Yakan, said he had not heard of the plan to build a relief camp where Syrian Christians would be separated from their Muslim compatriots, but he would not welcome it.

“These are people who have been living together for centuries. To be separating them now is not a good idea,” he said.

The UNHCR estimates that the conflict between pro-government forces and rebels in Syria has killed as many as 70,000 people and produced more than one million refugees, most of them children, and most now living Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

The UN agency has said it expects to help Turkish authorities assist close to 500,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey in 2013. It said more than 250,000 Syrians fleeing war at home have registered in Turkey, but Turkish officials have put the total number at nearly 400,000.

Neither Turkish officials nor the UN provides figures for the numbers of Syrian Christian refugees thought to be in Turkey, but Christians make up an estimated 10 percent of Syria’s 22 million people.