Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor
Ankara, Turkey – According to an Amnesty International report, Turkey has denied entry to Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war and mass atrocities in their home country, while its border guards have shot and killed at least 17 refugees at remote border crossings. The report found that while Turkey has maintained an open border policy during the three and a half year conflict between the Assad regime and various rebel groups, allowing refugees to enter Turkey and the relative safety of refugee camps along the countries border, it found that only two border crossing are fully open to refugees and that refugees without passports have been denied entry into the country unless they had urgent needs.
The Amnesty International Report also claimed that at least 17 people had been shot and killed by border guards at unofficial crossing points between December 2013 and August 2014. Amnesty International shared its findings with Turkish authorities.
More than 1.6 million Syrian refugees have fled into neighboring turkey since the conflict began in 2011. Roughly half of the refugees who have fled the conflict over the past three and a half years have fled to turkey and are now struggling to survive. About 220,000 refugees are living in government-run refugee camps that Amnesty reports are now operating at full capacity. “Turkey is clearly struggling to meet even the most basic needs of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. The result is that many of those who have made it across the border have been abandoned to a life of destitution,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher.
While the roughly 220,000 refugees who are living in 22 government-run camps have access to food and essential services, Amnesty International reports that the remaining 1.38 million – more than 85% – are living outside of the camp system without access to government sponsored series. Most of these refugees are living in makeshift communities along the Turkey-Syrian border.
Tensions between the Turkish population and the incoming refugee population have been on the rise over the past several moth as Turkish resources have been stretched to capacity. The Turkish government has failed to grant refugee status to Syrians fleeing the brutal armed conflict in their home country and instead has labeled them as “guests” who enjoy temporary protection. This lack of protection and legal recognition has made the matter worse for Syrian’s attempting to support themselves in Turkey, many are facing backlashes from Turkish residents who see them as unwanted guests and unwanted competition for local resources.
The Amnesty report states that an increasing number of refugees are now being denied access to Turkey and many of those who still attempt to cross the border into the Turkish territory have become victims of abuse. “There can be no excuse for ‘pushbacks’ into war-torn Syria or for beating or shooting at refugees seeking safety in the country,” Andrew Gardner said. “The response of the international community to the Syrian refugee crisis has been pitiful both in terms of resettling refugees from the region and taking financial responsibility for the reception of Syrian refugees in Turkey.”
The Amnesty International Report documents dozens of cases of Syrian refugees who have been severely beaten, shot at or otherwise ill-treated by Turkish border guards. At least 17 refugees were shot and killed by border guards. This change in Turkey’s policy towards refugees fleeing the war is a clear violation of the non-refoulement principle, which prohibits any country from returning refugees to conflict zones where their lives are in danger. Despite this principle, many Syrians are being pushed back at the Turkish border where they face an uncertain future.
For more information please see:
Amnesty International – Turkey: Border Abuses and Destitution Aggravating Plight of Syria Refugees – 21 November 2014
The Guardian – Amnesty Report Reveals Desperate Plight of Syrian Refugees in Turkey – 20 November 2014
International Business Times (United Kingdom) – Amnesty Report: Syrian Refugees Killed By Border Guards As Turkey Feels Strain – 20 November 2014
The Telegraph – Syria Refugees ‘Shot and Killed By Turkey Border Guards’ – 20 November 2014