Turkey plans refugee camp for Syrian Christians

(Photo: Reuters / Muhammad Najdet Qadour / Shaam News Network / Handout)Syrian refugees are seen in a refugee camp on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey, near Idlib January 29, 2013, in this picture provided by Shaam News Network. Picture taken Jan. 29, 2013. Reuters

The Turkish government is setting up a refugee space specifically for displaced Christians, two years after the civil war in Syria began.

Not all Christians are, however, welcoming the move.

The Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management (or AFAD) announced it will separate Christians into their own camp near Mor Abraham Syriac Monastery by the town of Midyat.

The area is located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the Syrian border.

"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, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Turkey said Tuesday.

Corabatir said the camp is likely the response to a series of meetings between Turkish officials and churches in the area.

The plight of Syrian Christians has become increasingly glaring in recent months.

Christians make up about 10 percent of the 22 million people in Syria.

In March, the U.S. Bishops' Catholic Relief Services reported that about 200 Syrian Christians were seeking shelter in local Turkish churches, out of fear of intolerance at the 17 relief camps near the border.

The Turkish disaster agency estimates that there are about 200,000 refugees near the area in dispute, most of whom are predominantly Sunni Muslim.

Some Christian leaders are, however, not welcoming the separation of Christians from other Syrians.

Father Francois Yakan, the patriarchal vicar of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Turkey, was quoted by the Catholic Herald in the UK as saying that while he was unaware of any such plans that they would not be good.

The Catholic leader worries that such a move would segregate Christians in the area.

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

Reuters news agency reported that the Turkish government strongly denied a sectarian or ethnic agenda.

A Turkish foreign ministry official said the two tented camps, to be completed in less than a month, are being built in Midyat, a town in southeastern Mardin province some 50 km (30 miles) from the Syrian border.

The U.N. estimates that up to 70,000 people have been killed in the Syrian Civil War and the carnage has displaced 1 million refugees between Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon.

Half of those refugees, the U.N. estimates, are currently residing in Turkey.

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