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Despite EU Deal, Turkey Is Not A Safe Place For Refugees

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the audience during an education congress in Istanbul, Sunday, March 20, 2016. CREDIT: KAYHAN OZER, PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE, AP
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the audience during an education congress in Istanbul, Sunday, March 20, 2016. CREDIT: KAYHAN OZER, PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE, AP

A day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke about Turkey’s benevolent reception of refugees during a trip to Washington, D.C., a new report from Amnesty International shows that many Syrians who have sought refuge in the country are actually being mass deported back to Syria.

“New research carried out by the organization in Turkey’s southern border provinces suggests that Turkish authorities have been rounding up and expelling groups of around 100 Syrian men, women and children to Syria on a near-daily basis since mid-January,” Amnesty International reported on Friday in a press release. “Over three days last week, Amnesty International researchers gathered multiple testimonies of large-scale returns from Hatay province, confirming a practice that is an open secret in the region.”

The report comes a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke about Turkey’s important role in the refugee crisis at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. Turkey hosts more than half of all registered Syrian refugees, with at least 2.7 million residing there according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The entire European continent, on the other hand, is hosting only around 4 percent of the nearly five million Syrian refugees. The large number of refugees in Turkey has flustered the government and upset portions of the Turkish population, and Erdogan used his speech to appeal to Europe to pick up some of the slack.

Amnesty International described the Turkish government’s new policies toward Syrian refugees as “a radical change from those adopted previously by the Turkish authorities during the five years of the Syrian crisis.”

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The forced return of refugees to a war-torn country is illegal under Turkish, European, and international law. While Turkey denied the allegations, Amnesty claims to have spoken to numerous refugees who were forcibly returned to Syria. Also among the returned are pregnant women and children, according to Amnesty.

“The inhumanity and scale of the returns is truly shocking; Turkey should stop them immediately,” John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, said.

“The Amnesty report comes just days before Turkey is expected to receive the first migrants returned from Greece under the deal with the EU,” the BBC reported. “On Friday the UN called for safeguards before any migrants were returned.” The deal — which will send a number of Syrian refugees in Europe back to Turkey — gives Turkey benefits like freer travel for Turkish citizens throughout the EU.

Meanwhile, the Turkish border is a much more dangerous place for Syrian refugees than in previous months. Guards have cut back on the number of refugees registered for asylum, leaving many stranded in locations with a precarious safety situation. The result has been refugees trying to sneak through the border and into Turkey — an act the border patrol has not taken to kindly.

Turkish border guards have been accused of shooting at refugees trying to cross the border, according to British news outlet The Times. “Sixteen migrants, including three children, were killed by guards as they crossed into Turkey over the past four months, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring organisation,” the Times reported.

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Amnesty has also criticized Europe for trusting Erdogan and Turkey to act in a humane way to Syrian refugees, and for turning a blind eye to the safety of refugees.

“In their desperation to seal their borders, EU leaders have willfully ignored the simplest of facts: Turkey is not a safe country for Syrian refugees and is getting less safe by the day,” Dalhuisen said.