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Syrian refugees abused, shot at by Turkey's border guards: HRW report

Syrian refugees are under mounting pressure in Turkey as the president seeks to mend ties with the Syrian government.
A soldier mans a machine gun mounted on an army vehicle during a Turkish and Russian military patrol in the countryside of Rumaylan (Rmeilan), in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province bordering Turkey, on April 27, 2023. (Photo by Delil souleiman / AFP) (Photo by DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

A leading human rights organization condemned Turkey on Thursday for its treatment of Syrian refugees at its southern border. Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Turkish forces of indiscriminately shooting at and torturing Syrian migrants and asylum seekers at the border.

Hugh Williamson, the organization’s director for Europe, said in a statement that such abuses are common. He said, “Turkish gendarmes and armed forces in charge of border control routinely abuse and indiscriminately shoot at Syrians along the Syrian-Turkish border, with hundreds of deaths and injuries recorded in recent years.”

HRW cited data from the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights indicating 11 deaths and 20 injuries attributable to Turkish border guards in 2023. The watchdog called on Turkish authorities to review border security policies and pursue justice for the victims.

Why it matters: There are currently around 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey who fled across the border in response to the civil war since 2011, according to United Nations figures. Though the Syrian civil war has died down, there is still fighting in the northwest and a dire economic situation across the country, continued attacks by the Islamic State, military conscription and other deterrents from returning.

Syrians have faced torture, abuse and other ills at the Turkish border for years. On March 11, Turkish authorities tortured a group of Syrians seeking to cross illegally into Turkey, leading to two deaths. On March 13, a Turkish border guard shot and killed a Syrian farmer who was working his land on the Syrian side, according to HRW.

Three Turkish soldiers were arrested in relation to the March 11 incident, according to multiple reports.

Syrians in Turkey are facing increasing pressure to return home. Anti-Syrian sentiments have been on the rise for years amid Turkey’s ongoing economic crisis. Many Syrian refugees in Turkey are worried by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s warming toward the Syrian government, as they fear persecution if they were to return home.

In October last year, Turkey deported hundreds of Syrians in a move Human Rights Watch called “arbitrary.” The situation resembles that in Lebanon, where Syrians are likewise facing deportation and discrimination.

Know more: Around 60,000 Syrians left Turkey to go home following the devastating February earthquake in both countries.

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