In winter freeze, Turkey clears capital of Syrian shanty towns

Reuters News
|
Posted: Jan 09, 2015 12:11 PM

By Jonny Hogg and Dasha Afanasieva

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey rounded up more than 300 Syrian refugees in Ankara on Friday, tearing down makeshift shelters, eyewitnesses said, in what authorities described as an operation to send vulnerable families to camps as winter temperatures plunge.

Turkey has removed 3,000 refugees nationwide and sent them to a specially built camp in Gaziantep in the south east, Dogan Eskinat, spokesman for Turkey's disaster management agency AFAD told Reuters, without giving a time frame. He said the aim was to ensure that only those able to sustain themselves remain outside of camps.

AFAD says Turkey hosts 1.7 million Syrian refugees, of whom 230,000 are in camps, with access to facilities such as schools, supermarkets and even cinemas.

At dawn, a day after the affected families were informed, riot police cleared tents and shacks in Haci Bayram, one of the poorest parts of the capital, and sent 308 of their inhabitants, more than half of whom were children, to a camp, locals said.

One Syrian man laden with battered suitcases said police had let him stay to load his car but he now had no idea where his wife and children were. "I don't know the name of the camp we're being sent to," said the man, who gave his name as Abdullah.

A young child and people searching for firewood picked through wood and tarpaulin littered with abandoned personal belongings, the remains of the refugees' shanty housing.

Many locals said they were happy to see the Syrians leave although there was discomfort about how it had been handled.

"I want the Syrians to go home, but this sort of evacuation isn't good. It was like a terrorist operation," 60-year old Suleyman said.

Storms and blizzards in the Middle East this week have raised concerns for Syrian refugees, although Eskinat said extra precautions have been taken to protect those in Turkish camps.

"The idea is that people living outside of camps are able to sustain themselves," Eskinat said, adding that evacuations to camps were "a necessity if people are freezing in the street" and the policy will continue for "as long as there is a need".

Since December, Syrians must be registered in order to get access to free healthcare and schooling outside of camps.

AFAD said the rationale of the registration process, which includes recording biometric data, is to help it coordinate humanitarian relief and direct people to facilities.

(Additional reporting by Umit Bektas; Writing by Dasha Afanasieva; Editing by Catherine Evans)