Syrians in Turkey tell a human rights organisation how border guards intercepted them at or near the border – some said they were immediately beaten back into Syria, others said that they had been detained and then expelled.
Turkey closed its last two official border crossings in March and has stepped up enforcement measures at unofficial crossings since an Isil-linked attack in the mostly-Kurdish town of Suruc in July. Photo: AP Photo/Santi Palacios
Under international law, it is forbidden to return anyone to a place where they face real risk of persecution or torture. The regime of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, is accused of targeting opposition-held areas across the fractured country in an attempt to make them unlivable.
Describing his first night time crossing into Turkey, one man told Human Rights Watch that his party had scattered when border guards started shooting close by. “I couldn’t run because I was helping a man who had been injured in an air strike in Syria and who couldn’t run away,” he said.
“One of the guards hit me on the back of my head and in my ribs with the butt of his rifle and I fell over and started to bleed. Then another guard kicked me in the head and broke my glasses. It hurt so much I vomited.”
Turkey has registered some 2,200,000 Syrian refugees since the civil war began. Around a quarter of a million now live in official camps.
“Turkey has generously hosted Syrians and is entitled to closely control its borders for security reasons, but it should not be forcing asylum seekers back to a war zone,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch.
According to the United Nations, more than 120,000 people have fled the Syrian provinces of Aleppo, Idlib and Hama since Russia began air strikes at the end of September.
A senior US official, Rafael Foley, told a closed-door meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, that their usage had become “routine” in Syria’s civil war.
In 2013, Mr Assad’s regime gassed an entire neighbourhood outside Damascus with sarin, a chemical that burns its victims from the inside. Despite destroying most of its chemical stockpile, the regime has also mounted a series of attacks on rebel-held territory using chlorine.
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) have also used chemical weapons, unleashing mustard gas on civilians and Kurdish fighters in Syria and Iraq. Photo: AFP
Although Russia justified the early weeks of its Syria campaign with a need to fight Isil, the group have made steady gains through the west of the country, appearing to have the Homs or Hama, both of them major cities, in their sights.
On Monday, regime troops wrestled back control of Maheen, a strategic town close to Homs, from Isil, three weeks after it fell to the extremist group.
“The army in cooperation with popular defence groups (pro-regime militias) took control of Maheen and Hawareen in the southeast of Homs province after inflicting heavy losses on Daesh,” said Syrian state television said, using an Arabic nickname for Isil.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, confirmed the army’s advance, and said they had been backed by Russian warplanes and military helicopters.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, said that Moscow’s air strikes would last as long as was necessary to punish those guilty of blowing up a Russian airliner over Egypt last month. Isil claimed that attack, along with those in Paris and Beirut in the weeks that followed.
Russia’s backing for Syria’s regime has pushed it into an unprecedented and uneasy alliance with Iran, Mr Assad’s other biggest sponsor.
On his first trip to Tehran in eight years on Monday, a spokesman for Mr Putin said the two countries opposed “external attempts” to bring regime change in Syria. The comments were a direct rebuff of repeated demands from the United States, France, Britain and Saudi Arabia that Mr Assad step down and play no future role in the war-ravaged country.
Source:Red Cross, UNHCR