Turkey closing Syrian border to commerce, not refugees

GENEVA Wed Jul 25, 2012 5:46am EDT

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GENEVA (Reuters) - - Turkey is closing its border with Syria to commercial traffic but will keep it open for refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict, a UNHCR spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

"We've received assurances that it is staying open. The border is closed for all commercial traffic in both directions, that is what we heard from the Turkish government," Sybella Wilkes, spokeswoman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told Reuters.

About 300 Syrians had crossed overnight into Turkey, she added, some of them are using informal crossing points.

"The Turkish government is still actively welcoming refugees and offering them protection," Wilkes said.

Earlier, an official from the Turkish Customs and Trade Ministry told Reuters that all Turkey's border gates with Syria were to be closed from Wednesday, in response to worsening security conditions.

Crossing the border had become increasingly hazardous for truck drivers involved in trade between the two countries. They faced the constant risk of being targeted by combatants or caught in the crossfire between the two sides.

In all some 120,000 Syrian refugees have registered with UNHCR in four neighboring countries - Iraq (7,490), Jordan (36,323), Lebanon (31,004) and Turkey (43,387) - since fighting erupted 16 months ago.

In the past few weeks, the rate of Syrians arriving in Jordan has doubled to 1,200-1,300 per day, stretching a transfer facility overflowing with 6,500 people staying in desert conditions, Wilkes said. The agency is urgently building a camp with tents at Za'atri in Mafraq.

"We are quite literally working overnight to get it ready. We may need to move in thousands of people," she said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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