Turkish border guards shoot, block fleeing Syrian asylum seekers

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ANKARA: Turkey’s border guards are indiscriminately shooting and forcibly returning Syrian asylum seekers, who are trying to cross into Turkey, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

According to the watchdog, Syrians are trying, in particular, to escape violence in Idlib and Afrin and find asylum in Turkey, however, the border remains closed to all but critical medical cases.

HRW deputy director for Middle East Lama Fakih said in the press release on Saturday “Syrians fleeing to the Turkish border seeking safety and asylum are being forced back with bullets and abuse… As fighting in Idlib and Afrin displaces thousands more, the number of Syrians trapped along the border willing to risk their lives to reach Turkey is only likely to increase.”

Those refugees who succeeded in crossing to Turkey told the watchdog that the Turkish border guards shot at them, as well as beat asylum seekers and denied them medical assistance.

A total of 247,000 Syrians were displaced to the border area between December 15, 2017, and January 15, 2018, the HRW said, citing UN figures.

The HRW added that it had informed the Turkish interior minister about the situation on the border.

Last month, the Turkish Armed Forces launched Operation Olive Branch against the Kurdish forces in Afrin, an area controlled by the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which are considered by Ankara to be affiliates of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), designated as a terrorist organisation in Turkey and several other countries.

The operation has been conducted jointly with the Free Syrian Army forces, while Damascus has firmly condemned the operation as an attack on Syria’s sovereignty.