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19th Jan 2020

Turkey accused of crimes against refugees, as EU returns begin

  • Turkish refugee camp - how safe is it for people whom the EU will send back? (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Testimonials given to NGOs indicate that Turkey is using live ammunition against Syrians trying to cross the border to claim refuge while rounding up others and forcing them back into the war zone.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based NGO, on Thursday (31 March) accused Turkish authorities of having shot dead 16 people, including three minors, who tried to cross into Turkey over the past three months.

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Rami Abdurrahman, the group’s director, told EUobserver that: “Turkish border guards are shooting people who are trying to flee from the war.”

“Just last week a lady was killed and her daughter, who is 14, was seriously wounded,” he said. “Some people were also killed last year.”

He said the information comes from the Observatory’s activists on the ground in the border region.

“We need some pressure from the European Union to make Turkey stop killing people. They play the game very well. They kill children on the border and then they get €3 billion from Europe,” Abdurrahman added, referring to the EU-Turkey accord to send refugees back to Turkey in return for financial aid and other concessions.

Expelling groups

Amnesty International, a leading UK-based charity, in a report published on Friday also accused Turkish authorities of refoulement - sending asylum seekers back to face danger in contravention of international law.

It said that since mid-January authorities have been expelling groups of up to 100 people at a time on an almost daily basis.

It said most of those expelled don’t have official refugee status, but some people who do were forced back because they didn’t have their IDs with them when they were arrested.

It added that Turkey has also slowed down refugee registration in its south-east regions, putting more people at risk of expulsion.

"In their desperation to seal their borders, EU leaders have wilfully ignored the simplest of facts: Turkey is not a safe country for Syrian refugees and is getting less safe by the day," Amnesty’s Europe and Central Asia director, John Dalhuisen, said in a statement.

He added: “The large-scale returns of Syrian refugees we have documented highlight the fatal flaws in the EU-Turkey deal. It is a deal that can only be implemented with the hardest of hearts and a blithe disregard for international law.”

Quite outrageous

A senior Turkish official told this website on Thursday that there is nothing to “substantiate” the Syrian Observatory’s accusations.

The official described Abdurrahman’s statement as “quite outrageous.”

The Turkish foreign ministry told the Reuters news agency that Amnesty International’s information is also incorrect.

“None of the Syrians that have demanded protection from our country are being sent back to their country by force, in line with international and national law,” it said.

A European Commission spokeswoman said on Thursday that the institution is aware of the Syrian Observatory’s report, but that “we have no confirmed information that can confirm this.”

“We will raise the issue with Turkish authorities … Turkish refugee policy has to comply with international human rights standards,” she added.

She said the first returns of refugees, under an EU-Turkey accord, who crossed the Aegean to Greece from Turkey are to begin on Monday. “Everybody’s working very hard to attain that goal,” she said.

She declined to comment on reports by the AFP news agency that the first batch of returnees will number 500 people.

She also said that small-scale Greek returns to Turkey outside the scope of the EU-Turkey pact are already “ongoing … we saw some more just yesterday.”

The spokeswoman added on Friday in reference to the Amnesty report: "We take every allegation seriously, we will examine them of course."

Safe country?

Turkey over the past five years has welcomed 2.7 million Syrian refugees.

But it sealed its border with Syria late last year when Russian air strikes prompted a mass exodus from the Syrian city of Aleppo and because of earlier EU pressure to help slow the flow of people to Europe.

The legality of the Turkey returns deal rests on Turkey fulfilling criteria to be a “safe country” to which to send back people.

Other concerns include whether Greece will fully apply people’s right to asylum amid plans to fast-track claims and appeals procedures in order to send them back as quickly as possible.

The EU-Turkey accord also entails an EU promise to grant Turkey visa-free travel and to open five chapters in its EU accession process.

But Turkey’s crackdown on independent media and its attempts to force Germany to silence people who made fun of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a satirical song prompted a rebuke from the commission earlier this week.

“This moves Turkey further from the EU rather than closer to us,” a commission spokeswoman said, adding that the EU “appreciates” Ankara’s help on the migrant crisis.

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