Turkey has all but closed its borders to Syrian asylum seekers and is summarily pushing back Syrians detected as they try to cross, Human Rights Watch said in a detailed report yesterday.
Syrians described Turkish border guards intercepting them at or near the border, in some cases beating them, and pushing them and dozens of others back into Syria or detaining and then summarily expelling them along with hundreds of others.
During the second half of October 2015, Human Rights Watch interviewed 51 Syrians in Turkey who had fled airstrikes and other violence in Syria. All said it was common knowledge among Syrians that they could only enter Turkey using smugglers. They described men, women, and terrified children trying to clamber at smuggler crossings across steep terrain at night for many hours surrounded by gunfire.
“Turkey’s border closure is forcing pregnant women, children, the elderly, the sick, and the injured to run the gantlet of Turkish border officials to escape the horrors of Syria’s war,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Turkey has generously hosted Syrians and is entitled to closely control its borders for security reasons, but it should not be forcing asylum seekers back to a war zone.”
HRW recalled that Turkey closed its last two official border-crossing points to almost all Syrians in early March, only allowing some people with urgent medical needs to cross. Syrians have continued to reach Turkey through smuggling routes.
Almost all of those interviewed by HRW said it was common knowledge in their home areas that it was the best chance they had of crossing into Turkey because the hilly terrain makes it harder for the Turkish authorities to detect them than in the flat plain border areas further north and east.
They said that hundreds – and on some days, thousands – of Syrians were amassed in the area, waiting to cross by night. Many said they had to wait for up to a week before smugglers told them it was safe to try.
“The sheer exhaustion and desperation Syrian families go through after fleeing for their lives and literally scrambling their way to safety through the night across the Turkish border is written all over their faces,” Simpson said. “Turkey should not be putting people escaping war through such hardship.”