ISTANBUL - Turkey has sent hundreds of refugees back to Syria after clashes with Turkish military police at their camp near the border in a protest over living conditions, officials said on Thursday, the first such mass deportation since the conflict began.
Refugees threw rocks at military police who fired teargas and water cannon in the unrest in the Suleymansah camp, near the Turkish town of Akcakale, on Wednesday.
"These people were involved in yesterday's violence, they were seen by the security cameras in the camp," a camp official told Reuters by telephone. "Between 600 and 700 have been deported. The security forces are still looking at the footage, and if they see more they will deport them."
A second Turkish official in the region said about 400 had been sent home.
But a Turkish government official in the capital Ankara denied the Syrians had been deported, saying this would be contrary to the rules Turkey has set for temporarily sheltering Syrians fleeing their country's civil war.
"Nobody has been deported or evicted back into Syria against their will," the government official said, saying around 60 had decided they no longer wanted to live in the camp and had chosen to cross back into Syria.
"99.9 percent of the Syrians here know and see these other Syrians as provocateurs and it is these who have chosen to go back," the official said.
With Syria's civil war now in its third year, more than one million Syrians have fled their country. At least four million more are believed to be displaced inside Syria, aid agencies say.
Camps in Turkey for the most part have facilities such as electric heaters to protect against freezing temperatures and refugees receive three hot meals a day, better conditions than in camps in some of Syria's other neighbors.
But overcrowding remains a concern, with ever more refugees arriving as fighting across the border drags on.