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2 Aug, 2012 10:36

Syrian refugee camps: Safehouses or anti-Assad hotbeds?

Over 200,000 Syrians have fled to refugee camps over the last ten days as violence in the country continues to escalate. Some camps in neighboring countries are alleged to have turned into hotbeds for anti-Assad sentiment.

The UN estimates that up to 1.5 million people may have been displaced following the uprisings against embattled president Assad that broke out last March.

An estimated 120,000 refugees have been registered by the UN in neighboring countries, including Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. A complete count of those displaced would likely be much higher, owing to large numbers of unregistered refugees.

Hospitals and schools in neighboring countries are struggling to cope with the recent influx of Syrian refugees. The country needs over $500 million in aid in order to meet the needs of the refugees, according to the Organization of Islamic Corporation, but the international community has yet to meet this target.

The UN Regional Response Plan for Syria’s refugees was only 26 percent funded at the end of July, while another UN appeal had only received $38 million of the $180 million needed.

Some of the aid being delivered into Syria is being governed by politics instead of humanitarian concerns, RT’s Maria Finoshina reported.

“We will not accept anybody who supports such a criminal regime [of Bashar Al-Assad], maybe we will try to talk to them to convince them not to be on the bad side. If they accept, they’re more than welcome, if not, we will ask them to leave the village,” the head of a refugee shelter in the northern Lebanese town of Majdal Anjar told Finoshina.

Refugee camps become secret rebel command posts

One of the refugees, who fled the war-torn city of Homs, said he would join the Free Syria Army (FSA) if given the chance. “And If I have a chance to kill Assad with my bare hands, I’ll not hesitate,” he told Finoshina.

Allegations abound that refugee camps are being used to spread anti-Assad rhetoric and train rebel forces. Damascus has repeatedly accused the FSA of using refugee camps on the border between Syria and Lebanon to recruit volunteers.

In April, RT reported that FSA was using refugee camps in Turkey as safehouses from which to launch incursions into Syria.

“They [Syrian rebels] cross the border, then they walk back again. Maybe the Turkish army finds some and takes them back to the camp, others just come by themselves. A lot of these people work with the Free Syrian Army,” an anonymous occupant of a refugee camp told RT’s Sara Firth.

Last week, Reuters cited anonymous sources in reporting that Turkey had set up a secret base on the Syrian border to help coordinate rebel operations. The base, located 70 miles from the Syrian border in Adana, was described as a “nerve center” for the FSA.