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Turkey grapples with influx of Syrian refugees

Syrian refugees crossed into Turkey by the Orontes river, near the village of Hacipasa, Turkey, on Dec. 8.

Manu Brabo/Associated Press

Syrian refugees crossed into Turkey by the Orontes river, near the village of Hacipasa, Turkey, on Dec. 8.

ANKARA, Turkey — As Nasir Hackasim ran home to rescue his family when Syrian soldiers shot at his kebab restaurant, he remembered some childhood advice: Find safety in water.

So the 58-year-old took his wife and nine sons and set off from the town of A’zaz through a small river to cross the border into Turkey and escape Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces hunting him for refusing to spy on his patrons, the rebels. He ended up at a camp now housing 13,600 refugees.

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‘‘My father often said there would be no landmines in the water; walk in the water,’’ said Hackasim. ‘‘So, we walked through a creek into Turkey in daylight. Someone else had already destroyed the barbed wire.’’

Turkey has so far opened its doors to more than 210,000 refugees, about 40 percent of the total being processed in Syria’s neighbors, including families of rebels and supporters. As the country becomes a haven, Turkey is saddled with a drop in trade and the cost of housing them as fears escalate that Syria may launch a punitive missile attack.

The country spent $270 million on refugees since fighting erupted in March 2011, Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek told Parliament this week. Exports to Syria fell 70 percent in the first nine months, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported Dec. 12, citing Simsek.

‘‘Turkey has the capacity to cope with the unexpected financial burden,’’ Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Ankara, said Tuesday. ‘‘However, the crisis is poisoning its relations with its neighbors. Turkey’s strong opposition to Assad jeopardizes its relations with Russia, Iran, and Iraq.’’

Hackasim, an ethnic Turkmen, has been under Turkish protection since his escape from Syrian government soldiers nine months ago, he said.

‘Turkey has the capacity to cope with the unexpected financial burden.’

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‘‘It was Sunday, about 20 of them came and raked everywhere with automatic weapons, knocking over the refrigerator and tables,’’ Hackasim said in a Dec. 7 interview between drags on endless cigarettes. ‘‘I fled through the back door.’’

Before the start of the conflict 21 months ago, Turkey and Syria’s relationship was so close that Assad and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vacationed together with their families in 2008. Tension rose when Turkey began calling on Assad to stop massacring his own people and step down.

The downing of a Turkish reconnaissance jet by Syrian forces in June and the deaths of five Turks by an errant mortar round from Syria in October escalated it further.

The opposition has made gains against Assad’s forces and controls mainly Sunni Muslim areas stretching from the northeastern outskirts of Damascus to areas in the southwest. The Free Syrian Army seized a highway between the capital and Aleppo on Tuesday, severing the supply route between the nation’s two biggest cities, according to opposition activist websites.

Turkey is moving reinforcements and deploying weapons from its NATO allies along the 560-mile frontier. The United States and Germany agreed last Friday to send two Patriot antimissile batteries and some 400 soldiers to Turkey. Components for the equipment started arriving Tuesday. The missiles will be deployed in Turkey by Feb. 1, Anatolia said Wednesday.

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