Turkey’s border guards shooting, torturing Syrians: HRW

Syrian residents of Hatay city wait to cross the Turkish-Syrian border after they were affected by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the region nearly two weeks ago, at Cilvegozu border gate on February 17, 2023 Yasin AKGUL / AFP

Human Rights Watch on Thursday accused Turkish border guards of shooting, torturing and using excessive force against Syrians seeking to flee their war-racked country into neighboring Turkey, Agence France-Presse reported.

It urged Ankara to investigate border guards, hold those responsible for “grave human rights violations, including unlawful killings” to account, and end “longstanding impunity for these abuses.”

“Turkish border guards are indiscriminately shooting at Syrian civilians on the border… as well as torturing and using excessive force against asylum seekers and migrants trying to cross,” the New York-based rights group said in a statement.

Syria’s war since 2011 has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions.

Syria shares a long border with Turkey, which hosts some 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees, according to the UN refugee agency.

“Turkey’s generous hosting of large numbers of Syrians does not absolve it of its obligations to respect the rights of others seeking protection at its borders,” HRW said.

It cited a March 11 incident in which border guards had “intercepted and tortured a group of eight Syrians who had attempted to cross into Turkey… killing a boy and one man” and returning the others to Syria.

“Turkish gendarmes and armed forces in charge of border control routinely abuse and indiscriminately shoot at Syrians along the Syrian-Turkish border, with hundreds of deaths and injuries recorded in recent years,” said HRW’s Hugh Williamson.

“Arbitrary killings of Syrians are particularly egregious and part of a pattern of brutality by Turkish border guards that the government has failed to curb or investigate effectively.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said Turkish border guards had shot dead 12 Syrians and wounded 20 others since the start of the year.

“While Turkey is entitled to secure its border with Syria, it must do so in compliance with international law and in particular its human rights obligations,” HRW said, urging Ankara to “urgently conduct a full review” of border security policy.

Despite officially closing its frontier with Syria, Turkey over the years has regularly allowed access for humanitarian and medical reasons, and at times has allowed Syrians to return home for family visits during major holidays.

But since a devastating February 6 earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, killing thousands, Ankara has reinforced border restrictions.

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