But with more than 80,000 refugees in Turkey, nearly double the number a month ago, officials warned that the country is rapidly approaching the point at which it will no longer be able to cope. That could trigger a request for support at the United Nations for the creation of some form of internationally protected haven that would enable refugees to remain in Syria.
Turkey has not decided how to address the accelerating refugee flow but is considering asking the United Nations to find a way “to keep those Syrian nationals safe on the Syrian side of the border,” said a government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. “It is becoming a big burden. This could become a big issue, and we have to think about any kind of eventuality.”
The Obama administration remains reluctant to become embroiled in what could prove to be a costly and unstoppable war that would risk engulfing the region, U.S. officials say.
President Obama last week identified the use of chemical weapons by the regime against its opponents as a “red line” that would trigger American intervention. U.S. officials say they are monitoring the evolving situation and are discussing various options, including the imposition of a no-fly zone in northern Syria that would alleviate the burden on Turkey of accommodating the refugees.
But although Turkish officials have been pressuring the United States to move toward some form of intervention because “they don’t want more refugees,” the United States is not convinced that the creation of any form of buffer zone would work to protect refugees or accelerate the demise of the regime, according to a senior U.S. administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Discussions by U.S. contingency planners have focused on a variety of options. They range from what is being called “no-fly lite,” which would provide a haven for refugees but not require outright attacks on military facilities, to a full-scale no-fly zone similar to the one imposed over Libya last year, according to U.S. officials.
The number of refugees being accommodated by Syria’s neighbors has already outstripped the United Nations’ projection of 185,000 by the end of the year, with more than 200,000 registered in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon as of Friday. The number in Turkey has climbed by 10,000 since Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, warned a week ago that Turkey would press for international action if the figure passed 100,000. The latest arrivals suggest that threshold could be reached within weeks, if not days.