Turkey must not strand new Wave of Syrian Refugees, & nor should Europe

Human Rights Watch | – –

(Istanbul) – Turkey should allow Syrians at its border fleeing the fighting in and around Aleppo to seek protection in Turkey, Human Rights Watch said today. Forcing people to remain in a war zone, where they risk death and injury, is no solution to the challenge of protecting Syrians fleeing their country.

European Union governments should match their calls on Turkey to let Syrians enter the country with increased resettlement of Syrians from Turkey to the EU. Turkey hosts at least 2.5 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country and the largest number of refugees in any single country worldwide.

“Turkey’s generosity in sheltering 2.5 million refugees shouldn’t stop now and leave thousands of Syrians stranded at the edge of a war zone,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Governments in Turkey and the EU should keep all borders open to Syrians and others in need of protection.”

In late January 2016, Syrian government forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, began an offensive in northern Syria to break the siege imposed by armed opposition groups on the towns of Nubbul and Zahraa and to cut off the city of Aleppo from Turkey. Human Rights Watch has documented unlawful air strikes in the offensive, including the use of inherently indiscriminate cluster munitions.

According to the United Nations, between February 1 and 9, about 45,000 people fled the offensive and travelled to nearby border areas with Turkey, adding to the estimated 6.5 million Syrians already internally displaced in Syria.

On February 9, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu claimed that during a recent unspecified period, Turkey had allowed 10,000 Syrians to cross in a “controlled fashion.” The UN refugee agency in Turkey has not confirmed Turkey’s assertion.

Instead, aid agency staff told Human Rights Watch that while a few people with serious injuries have been allowed to cross to Turkey for medical treatment, thousands have been refused entry at the Öncüpınar/Bab al-Salama border crossing, remaining near the border in poor conditions. The rest have fled to the nearby towns of Azaz and Afrin or to eight old camps for internally displaced people to the east of Azaz along the Turkish border. Aid workers say the camps sheltered 40,000 displaced Syrians before the recent crisis and are now filled beyond capacity, with about 50,000 people.

Turkey’s generosity in sheltering 2.5 million refugees shouldn’t stop now and leave thousands of Syrians stranded at the edge of a war zone, Governments in Turkey and the EU should keep all borders open to Syrians and others in need of protection.

Gerry Simpson

Senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch

Syrian activists told Human Rights Watch that Syrians stuck at the border and living in nearby villages such as Azaz are sleeping in the streets, fields, and in schools.

A number of aid workers in Turkey have reported that the Turkish authorities have allowed international aid groups based in Turkey to cross into Syria and join Syrian aid groups to distribute tents and other assistance to Syrians stuck at the border crossing and in nearby border areas.

On February 6, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey said that if Syrians “reach our door and have no other choice, if necessary, we have to and will let our brothers in.” On February 9, the UN refugee agency said Turkey should “open its border to all civilians in Syria fleeing danger in need of international protection.”

Human Rights Watch said that allowing much-needed cross-border aid does not absolve Turkey of its obligation to respect the principle of non-refoulement. That principle, under customary international law and international human rights law, prohibits rejecting asylum seekers at borders when that would expose them to the threat of persecution and torture.

Turkey has previously indicated it wants to create a “safe zone” in Syria to which Syrians could flee to and Turkey could return Syrian refugees. In July 2015, President Erdoğan said that “cleansing the region of all threatening elements and establishing a safe zone constitutes the basis of 1.7 million Syrian refugees’ return.” The same month, Çavuşoğlu, the foreign minister, said that, “When areas in northern Syria are cleared of the [ISIS] threat, the safe zones will be filled naturally…. People who have been displaced can be placed in those safe areas.”

While Turkey’s desire to limit the number of refugees may be understandable, the current situation in northern Syria makes clear that any “safe zone” would be safe in name only and would put the lives of displaced people in danger, Human Rights Watch said.

Since early 2015, Turkey has all but closed its borders to Syrians fleeing the conflict, who have increasingly been forced to use smugglers to reach Turkey. In late 2015, Human Rights Watch documented how Turkish border guards intercepted Syrians who crossed to Turkey using smugglers, in some cases beat them, and pushed them and dozens of others back into Syria or detained and then summarily expelled them.

EU leaders, including the EU’s High Representative Federica Mogherini, have said that Turkey should allow Syrians fleeing Aleppo to reach safety. In November, the EU concluded a controversial migration deal with Ankara to curb migration flows to Europe, offering €3 billion in aid to assist Syrians in Turkey, reinvigorated EU membership negotiations, and visa-free travel for Turkish citizens. Some European leaders have also called for a plan under which Turkey would process all asylum seekers wanting to reach the EU, in exchange for a pledge by EU states to resettle a few hundred thousand refugees from Turkey to the EU over an unspecified period.

“The EU is right to press Ankara to keep its borders open to refugees,” Simpson said. “But it needs to heed its own advice and ensure that EU governments meet their obligations to host and process asylum seekers rather than using the migration agreement to try to shift responsibility onto Turkey.”

Via Human Rights Watch

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

CNN: “Syrian refugees are stranded as Russian airstrikes advance”

3 Responses

  1. This article is a joke. Russia, Iran an Hezbollah. are destroying that part of Syria. They are creating another outflow of refugees which may go up to 800000. The author has partial truths in his article. Eu did not pay any money. They PLEDGED (Very funny word) Only a couple of weeks ago Italy has lifted its veto on the assistance. And no money has flown yet. The conditions to release the money are so restricted that I doubt turkey will take it. Turkey has 320000 Arabic speaking students in their schools. They have 30000 new born Syrian kids. They allowing Syrian high school graduates to enter into Turkish universities without entrance exams. It is allowing the registered refugees to get employment in turkey. The rest of the world is watching, pledging and giving lip service. Turkey has direct expenditures of 9 billion dollars to these refugees. I think Russia, Iran, America, NATO countries Europe and Saudi Arabia should take all these refugees. Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan will PLEDGE (Very funny word) to give them billions of $’s. Mr. Cole some of the articles I read in your blogs seem to suggest that you are close to the so called. LIBERATING countries. May be you should use your influence, to persuade them to take these refugees. After all between Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey; registered and unregistered refugees are around 6 million. That is peanuts for the great nations of this world. They are spending a lot more on bombs and weapons. Syrians did not invite all these nation into their country. We sent the terrorists into their country (ISIS 32000 foreign fighters from Europe Russia and other nations) and we bombed our own terrorists. Those poor people are running away from what we have created. Iran said I will send 20000 fighters mainly Afghanistan origin to fight them. Your blog may entertain an article asking Iran and Saudi Arabia to fight among themselves in their own countries instead fighting proxy wars in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. . .

    • Last October, Turkish and Saudi-backed militias and al-Qaeda cut West Aleppo off and began starving it, which was just as horrible as what is being done now on the other side. There was no outcry in the world press and you didn’t write me then to denounce it.

      • Yes there was an outcry but you did not hear it, a starving or drowning child is the same for me. It does not matter which side his parents are. A homeless Syrian is the same for me. Your research should show that the refugees in Turkey include those that support Assad regime as well. Turkey did not pick and choose. As your friendly countries picked the type of refugees they will take. I support the poor Syrians on both sides. Christians, Moslems and people of any belief. I said in my writing that we send our terrorists to Syria and sent the armies to bomb them. Instead they all forgot the ISIS and free Syrian army and they are killing civilians. I suggest an article on the ISIS Produced oil and natural gas pipelines that are flowing into the areas that are controlled by Assad and Russia. Who is buying this oil and gas and paying money to ISIS? You should include a paragraph as to who is supplying electricity the Russian bases and Who is paying the wages of the ISIS fighters that are working at these Electricity producing generators You forgot to wright that The refugees that are kept in Syrian area south of the border are housed and fed by the Turkish Government What about the friendly Iran and Russia. How about some tents and some food for those poor Syrians, from the great liberators of Assad. Again I do not proof read my writings and it is your choice to share it with the rest of the readers. Have a nice day

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