Turkish border guards shoot at Syrian refugees – Human Rights Watch

Turkish guards at the border with Syria are indiscriminately shooting at and summarily returning asylum seekers attempting to cross into Turkey, Human Rights Watch said on Saturday.

New York-based rights group said Syrians were now fleeing heightened violence in the northwestern province of Idlib to seek refuge near Turkey’s border, which remains closed to all but critical medical cases, Reuters reported.

Turkey on Jan. 20 launched military action in the nearby Afrin region targeting Kurdish YPG militia fighters.

“Syrians fleeing to the Turkish border seeking safety and asylum are being forced back with bullets and abuse,” Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Thirteen of 16 Syrian refugees to whom HRW spoke accused Turkish border guards of having shot toward fleeing asylum seekers as they tried to cross border while still in Syria, it said, killing 10 people, including one child.

President’s spokesman İbrahim Kalın was quoted by Reuters as saying that Turkish soldiers were there to protect these people and that Ankara has had an “open-door policy” since the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011.

“We will certainly look into it. It’s very unlikely that our soldiers would shoot at people,” Kalin told reporters in Istanbul.

Turkey has taken in 3.5 million Syrian war refugees since 2011, more than any other country, granting many temporary protection status and providing them with basic services, including medical care and education.

“Turkey’s generous hosting of large numbers of Syrians does not absolve it of its responsibility to help those seeking protection at its borders,” the HRW statement added.