Syrian refugees say Turkish border guards shooting at them
Abdulkarim Khalaf opened his eyes on last month to find himself lying in a hospital bed in the Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn, near the border with Turkey. When the 18-year-old tried to ask about his two cousins, nobody in the room could understand the sounds he was making, distorted by the many wounds to his face and body.
Khalaf and his two cousins, 22-year-olds Hameed Sahlan and Zayed al-Moghaireth, from a village close to the border successfully scaled the wall Turkey erected along the frontier to keep out refugees, but immediately ran into Turkish border guards.
“As soon as we were in Turkey, about 20 Turkish gendarmerie surrounded the three of us,” Khalaf told Ahval. “They started beating us with their gunstocks and batons so hard that I almost passed out. So I began running back towards wall, climbed it again and went back to the Syrian side. Then I did indeed pass out. A group of locals rushed me to the hospital. My cousins remained on the Turkish side. They couldn’t make it due to beating and torture by the Turkish border guards.”
His cousins’ bodies were later left at the border and then taken to a local hospital, hospital officials said.
Such incidents have become increasingly common in the past three years since Turkey ended the open border policy it adopted when the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011. Since then, Turkey has erected a wall and fences along its 900-km border with Syria and sought to set up what it calls safe areas inside Syria for those displaced by the fighting.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported last week that it had documented more than 360 cases of Syrian civilians killed by Turkish border guards between August 2015 and April 2018. Those casualties include 68 children and 32 women, it said.
Since the beginning of 2018, six civilians from the area of Ras al-Ayn have been killed and five wounded by Turkish border guards, according to officials at the local hospital where all of the victims were taken.
Of the six killed, four died trying to cross the border, while the remaining two were targeted while working in fields along the frontier, the officials said.
“I know three of the victims who died under torture after they were captured by the (Turkish) gendarmerie,” said Izedin Salih, a local reporter who closely follows the issue.
He said the bodies of victims were dropped on the border by Turkish security forces and then picked up by Syrian residents or local authorities.
Further west along the border, residents of the Syrian town of Tel Abyad said they had been living in fear after more than a dozen civilians were fired at by Turkish border guards while working in the fields in the past 10 months. At least three of them were killed, local sources said.
A woman who went by the name of Um Sami told Ahval that her 62-year-old husband died at the local hospital in December two days after he was shot at by Turkish guards. The husband was working on his farm outside Tel Abyad when the shooting happened.
“My husband had been working on the farm for more than 40 years,” said Um Sami. “He was the only breadwinner of our family. He wasn’t trying to cross the border or anything. His only crime was that his farm was on the border.”
Similar cases have been reported in Kobani, another Kurdish-held town on the Syria-Turkey border. At least six civilians were targeted, the Kobani Media Centre said.
Observers believe an agreement between Turkey and the European Union signed in March 2016 in which Syrian refugees entering Europe are returned to Turkey had made Turkish authorities reluctant to allow any more people to enter its territory from Syria.
“The agreement basically gave the right to Turkey to seal its border and to prevent the influx of refugees,” Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Ahval.
The United Nations says Turkey hosts 2.9 million Syrian refugees, but Turkey that number has recently increased to around 3.5 million.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in February that Turkish border guards were indiscriminately shooting at and summarily returning Syrian asylum seekers attempting to cross into Turkey. The New York-based organisation spoke with 13 Syrians who said Turkish border guards had shot at them while still in Syria, killing 10 people, including one child, and wounding several more.”
The Turkish government has denied all the reports, saying the border guards are there to protect the border, not to kill people.
“There has been absolutely no case of civilians being fired upon at the border,” a Turkish official, who remained anonymous, told Reuters in response to the HRW report.
Turkey has repeatedly called on the international community to increase its financial support for the country that hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees.