Apaydin Camp at Hatay, close to the border with Syria, houses Syrian military and security personnel who have rebelled against Bashar al-Assad and taken refuge in Turkey with their families. About 500 military and security personnel, including 30 generals and their families, totaling 4,000 in all, live inside.
Recently, opposition parliamentarians have been denied entry to the camp. That, along with allegations that the camp is used for training, have created an aura of mystery around it.
From the outset, Syrian police and military officials have been placed in camps separate from civilian refugees. They were first placed in Karbeyaz Camp and later moved to Apaydin. The camp is under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s Disasters and Emergencies Directorate (AFAD). All services, accommodations and food are provided by the Turkish Red Crescent Association. The camp has 1,122 residential tents, 17 multi-purpose tents, 25 ablution units and a total of 1,100 beds.
Turkish intelligence personnel
The number of refugees has climbed to 4,000 as more and more officers are bringing their families with them. Security in the camp is provided by the police. Officials from the Turkish Foreign Ministry and National Intelligence Organization (MIT) operate in the camp. Turkish officials say: “As required by [the United Nations] refugee legislation, we have to keep security personnel in a separate camp. As most of the soldiers have served in Assad’s army, they and their families are vulnerable to lynching in civilian camps. For their safety, we have to keep them here. This is not a training but an accommodation camp.”
Initially, officers were allowed to go shopping in town on certain days, but things are much more controlled now. Officials say that no one is allowed to carry a weapon in the camp. “Allegations of military training here are baseless,” they add.
“I am here for training”
The denial of entry to Apaydin camp to opposition parliamentarians Hursit Gunes and Suleyman Celebes placed the claims about the camp squarely on the national agenda.
Celebi spoke to Milliyet: “We were at a public meeting at Yesilpinar township. In our conversations with the people and representatives of civil society, we heard many claims about this camp. We observed that people were seriously disturbed. We were told there was training going on in the camp and that the camp residents were threatening local people, saying, ‘One day, the turn of Alawites here will come too.’
"People wanted us to go the camp and see it ourselves. We called the governor’s office, but were told that the authority was with AFAD. An AFAD official informed us that we could go to other camps, but not this one at Apaydin. We went to the gate of the camp. They didn’t let us in. One person who identified himself as a Syrian officer said he was an authority. He said he was in charge of training in the camp. There were some young refugees near us. When speaking between themselves in Arabic they were saying, ‘These guys deserve to be chopped to pieces right here.’”
Celebi continued: ”When we were denied entry, we became more concerned about what we have been told about this camp. Local people say camp residents are threatening them because of their sectarian affiliation. I also heard that the refugees don’t want to be treated by Alawite doctors in hospitals, and doctors are now assigned accordingly.”
Impressions of Burcu Karakas
Milliyet correspondent Burcu Karakas, accompanied by photographer Bunyamin Aygun, went to the camp on the religious holiday of Eid el-Fitr.
She reported: "One of the camps we went to talk to Syrian refugees in was the Apaydin Camp. We didn’t have permission, but wanted to try our luck. We gave our ID cards to a soldier on duty. After a short wait, we were welcomed into a room at the gate. There were three other people there. Then the commander arrived and asked us why we are there. He told us that we couldn’t be allowed in without permission. He said, 'We don’t accept anyone here. These are our orders.' I asked him if there are any special reasons for the ban. The officer said, 'I can’t talk about that.' As a last resort we tried to ask: 'Is Muhammad Ahmet Faris here?' The commander said he didn’t know. When bidding us farewell, guard soldiers confirmed what their commander had said. 'There are strict orders. We really don’t let anybody in. [There is] nothing we can do.'
Davutoglu: it's for the safety of residents
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, when asked in a press conference why the opposition parliamentarians were not allowed in, said that refugee legislation stipulated separate rules governing hosting civilians and military personnel coming to Turkey.
Davutoglu said, “It is perfectly normal to extend special treatment to those taking refuge in Turkey. Our parliamentarians were informed by our local officials that should they want to go to any civilian camp, they were most welcome. Our camps are transparent. It is normal that there are special rules, practices and discipline in camps where there are people whose security needs special attention. This conforms to UN norms.”
AFAD: we govern the camps
A statement issued by AFAD yesterday [August 27] denied the allegations, saying, “In recent days, there have been baseless press reports that Syrian opposition are being trained at Apaydin Camp and that the camp is controlled by Syrians. As in all other camps, overall administration and coordination of Apaydin Camp is under AFAD, and locally under the provincial governor. Reports that camps are run by Syrians are wrong. Apaydin is not a military training camp but a tent-city housing soldiers and their relatives. Our guests in this camp don’t want to talk to anyone, fearing for the safety of their relatives still in Syria. The Apaydin tent-city is not different from any other camp. Should anyone commit a crime — whether in Apaydin or in other camps — they are subject to Turkish laws. None of the Syrians, including those in Apaydin, have any immunity. Entry and exit of Syrians in all camps, including Apaydin, are subject to security controls. This is why the allegation that Syrians spend the day in the camps and cross into Syria at night is not correct.”
The statement also denied that opposition parliamentarians had contacted the Director of AFAD, Fuat Oktay, to ask for permission to enter Apaydin.
"There was absolutely no contact with the director of AFAD for entry to the camp or on any other issue,” the statement added.