According to a report by human rights group Amnesty International, Turkish border guards have a record of abusing and killing Syrian refugees. Those who do survive face extreme poverty in makeshift camps.
The revelations are featured in their new report, “Struggling to Survive: Refugees from Syria in Turkey.”
“Turkey is clearly struggling to meet even the most basic needs of hundreds of thousands [of] Syrian refugees,” said Amnesty’s Andrew Gardner. He continued:
The result is that many of those who have made it across the border have been abandoned to a life of destitution. The humanitarian assistance offered by the international community has been pitifully low, but Turkey also needs to do more to request and facilitate it. While Turkey has officially opened its border crossings to Syrian refugees, the reality for many of those trying to escape the ravages of war is a different story. Many are pushed back into the war zone with some even facing live fire.
Over 1.6 billion people fled to Turkey, a member of NATO, in the last four years to escape the civil war and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). In late September, Turkey opened the border, and over 60,000 people crossed in 24 hours. However, the report stated only two official border posts exist within the 559-mile border. These posts “are perilously far for the majority of refugees to travel,” which leads to people relying on human smugglers. The report also said border guards killed seventeen people between December 2013 and August 2014 at unofficial posts:
Ali Özdemir, aged 14, was shot in the head on the night of 18 to 19 May 2014 when approaching the Turkish border. His father told Amnesty International that Ali was with nine other refugees. About 10 metres before the Turkish border, they heard people speaking Turkish. Ali was afraid. Just as he decided to turn back from the border, he was shot in the side of the head. There was no verbal warning and there were no warning shots in the air. Ali was blinded in both eyes.
But the majority of the refugees face a harsh life once they cross the border. Amnesty said, “Only 220,000 are living in the 22 well-resourced camps which are currently operating at full capacity.” Nagehan Alçi with Daily Sabah visited a camp in Diyarbakir, Turkey, in October. The refugees lack proper sanitation, which puts them at risk for numerous diseases. She said there were 4,300 refugees at the camp, but only 600 tents.
“It is almost impossible to live in a tent under harsh winter conditions, much less a tree,” she said. “When I asked a municipal official what they will do about this situation, he said container houses are needed and that governmental support is essential.”
There are reported cases of Turkish men taking advantage of the women who cross the border. These Turkish “customers” target “young widows or divorcées who have no strong social or family networks.” The women are used for sex or forced marriages, similar to how Islamic State men treat their female prisoners. Male relatives desperate for money will use their female relatives to make ends meet. One woman, Samaa, told The Christian Science Monitor she lives with her family in a rundown hotel. Her husband knows about her “job” but chooses to look the other way because the family needs money.
However, Amnesty’s report also puts pressure on the international community to do more. Turkey said it spent $4 billion on the refugees, but Amnesty said that “only 28 percent of the $497 million earmarked for Turkey in the UN’s 2014 regional funding appeal for Syrians has been committed by international donors.” Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt are home to Syrian refugees. Amnesty hopes other countries “open their doors” to the Syrians.
“The most basic obligation of states is to open their doors to refugees fleeing persecution or war,” said Gardner. “The Turkish authorities must take comprehensive measures to ensure maximum safety and access for refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria.” He added:
The reality that most Syrian refugees face once they have escaped the ravages of war is grim and hopeless. They are abandoned by the international community. The world’s wealthiest nations are dragging their feet when it comes to offering financial support and resettlement. Turkey only clarified the legal status, rights and entitlements of Syrian refugees in October, when Parliament adopted a Temporary Protection Directive. This directive must be fully implemented and clearly communicated to both Syrian refugees and public officials.