Syrian refugees escaping from the intensifying violence in the north-west region of Syria are facing indiscriminate shots and beatings at the Turkish border. Refugees who succeeded in crossing the border via smuggling routes into Turkey told of Turkish border guards shooting at them, with others reporting of asylums seekers being detained and denied necessary medical assistance. Eyewitnesses described children among those who were shot at as they tried to cross to safety. A woman had given birth while attempting to cross the border, but the Turkish guards forced the mother and the newborn back into Syria without providing medical assistance.
“Syrians fleeing to the Turkish border seeking safety and asylum are being forced back with bullets and abuse,” said the Deputy Middle East Director of Human Rights Watch, Lama Fakih. From December 15, 2017 to January 15, 2018, an estimated 247,000 Syrians were escaping to the border area. “As fighting in Idlib and Afrin displaces thousands more, the number of Syrians trapped along the border willing to risk their lives to reach Turkey is only likely to increase.”
Twelve families told of their experiences of being captured and held at an internally displaced persons’ camp in Turkey before being forcibly sent back to Syria. “Turkish border guards placed them in a large square where they would remain until the guards had collected enough people to send back to Syria. Three families estimated that the square could fit up to a thousand people and usually had hundreds in it,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
A senior Turkish government spokesperson denied the reports, reminding reporters that Turkey had welcomed 2.5 million refugees since the Syrian War began in March 2011. President Erdogan’s spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin explained that Turkish soldiers were protecting refugees fleeing the violence, and have been welcomed by Ankara’s “open-door policy.”
These horrendous conditions along the Turkish-Syrian border comes amid the rising tension and armed violence along the Turkey-Syrian border. On January 20, 2018, the Turkish military launched a ground offence dubbed Operation Olive Branch to assist the Free Syrian Army in defeating the last rebel-held stronghold, therefore producing a safe and enduring environment for refugees. Alongside these aims, the Turkish army has long fought Kurdish unrest along the Turkey-Syrian border. The state is determined to prevent the Kurdish from creating a permanent state across the border in Syria.
International concern has been growing over the fate of 400,000 civilians living in the besieged, rebel-held area of eastern Ghouta, as the area continues to suffer from acute food and medicine shortages. This has added to what the United Nations has labelled the worst malnutrition in the Syrian War. Combined with hundreds of thousands of refugees living in informal tent settlements, the Syrian War continues to wreck havoc.
Turkey’s strong offensive and attack of fleeing refugees is Erodogan’s desire to control this resource-rich section of Syria and diminish Kurdish military successes, no matter what the prize. With hundreds of deaths and injuries, this price is high. That said, allowing this to continue may very well diminish any chance of Syria attaining long-lasting peace and security.
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