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UN Commission of Inquiry outlines atrocities in Syrian jails and detention centres, accusing regime forces of 'extermination' -

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ELEANOR HALL: Now to the damning findings of a UN investigation which accuses the Syrian regime of "exterminating" thousands of its opponents, inside jails and detention centres.

The UN Commission of Inquiry has outlined atrocities on an appalling scale.

The report coincides with worsening battle conditions in Syria's north, where tens of thousands of people are attempting to flee government forces.

Anne Barker has our report.

ANNE BARKER: The 25-page report paints a sickening picture of life in Syrian custody.

Investigators have accused the Assad regime of carrying out "extermination" in its jails and detention centres - saying prisoners have been executed, tortured to death or so badly mistreated they've starved or perished.

(Man speaking)

This man, Sami - not his real name - is one of thousands jailed for opposing the Assad regime.

His experience, told to the BBC, backs the UN report's findings

SAMI (translation): There was a massive number of people - scared, naked, hungry and sick. It reminds you of the Nazi concentration camps.

ANNE BARKER: Sami says he was jailed twice in Syria in four years, and only escaped after paying two separate bribes amounting to more than $15,000.

Forty of his own relatives, he says, have been killed in Syrian-run jails.

SAMI (translation): Conditions were terrible. We were sleeping on the floor and there were a lot of diseases spreading.

They used to bring the bodies from the basement and pile them before us.

Every day there would be around eight new bodies.

After a week I managed get closer and count the number written on the body's forehead - it was 5,530 - and after a month and a half, the number on another body was 5,870.

ANNE BARKER: The report adds to a growing body of evidence from the UN, Amnesty International and others, detailing horrific abuse and killings in Syrian-run jails.

The Commission of Inquiry's head, Paulo Pinheiro, spoke to reporters in Geneva.

PAULO PINHEIRO: The mass scale of deaths of detainees suggests that the government of Syria is responsible for acts that amount to extermination as a crime against humanity because these deaths are brought about in pursuance of a state policy to attack the civilian population.

ANNE BARKER: The UN says armed opposition groups in Syria have also committed crimes against humanity, executing or torturing government soldiers or members of other rival groups.

And it cites atrocities by Islamic State and the Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra

Paulo Pinheiro says perpetrators on all sides must be brought to justice.

PAULO PINHEIRO: Accountability remains all the more important in the context of a political process. Those who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity must be held accountable.

ANNE BARKER: Sami and his family are now in Europe and say they'll only return to Syria when Bashar al-Assad is no longer in power.

In recent days, another 30,000 Syrians have fled to the Turkish border as regime forces intensify their hold on the northern city of Aleppo.

Thousands more are sleeping on roads and fields between Aleppo and the border.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel - on a visit to the Turkish capital - expressed her horror at the worsening situation.

(Angela Merkel speaking)

"We are now, over the last few days, not only appalled but also shocked by the human suffering of tens of thousands of people through bombing attacks, and also bombing attacks originating from the Russian side", she said.

Turkey is now in an impossible position, with already two and a half million Syrian refugees inside its borders and pressure from Europe to keep them inside Turkey.

Turkey's deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus says it's feasible another 600,000 Syrians could amass at the border in coming days and weeks.

And the Turkish government is now increasingly housing refugees at camps inside the Syrian border.

"Our primary objective is to host them outside Turkish territory," he says, "and provide services for them from across the border. Non-governmental organisations have made important contributions for this purpose. We want them to continue to offer their services, as we are aiming to host these people within the borders of Syria."

Turkey has long pushed for a safe zone inside Syria where refugees could seek shelter while waiting for the war to end, instead of placing strain on Turkey and other countries in Europe

This week Turkish aid groups have sent thousands of tents and truckloads of aid to informal camps across the border.

But how long refugees can stay there in safety is anyone's guess.

Opposition groups in Syria now control just a few pockets of land in the country's northwest and southwest.

And regime forces have now set their sights on Tal Rifaat - one of the last rebel strongholds in Aleppo province, just 20 kilometres from the Turkish border.

ELEANOR HALL: Anne Barker with that report.