Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First calls for increased U.S. engagement with Turkey on the protection of Syrians at the border following today’s reports that refugees fleeing the violence in Syria are being denied entry to Turkey unless they have valid passports. Those who are denied entry into Turkey seek shelter on the Syrian side of the border, often with nothing but blankets to protect them from temperatures below freezing.
“Turkey has every right to take steps to address legitimate security concerns, but assessments of who constitutes a security risk should always be done on an individual basis and conducted in accordance with international standards,” said Human Rights First’s Kate Norland, who recently visited the Turkish-Syrian border with a team of Human Rights First researchers. “By preventing civilian refugees from crossing the border to safety, Turkey is not abiding by one of the most fundamental principles of international law – the obligation to not refoule, or force back – refugees to places of persecution.”
Human Rights First notes that Turkey is generously hosting an estimated 700,000 Syrian refugees, including over 215,000 in refugee camps. Since August 2012, Turkey has been limiting entry by Syrians without passports based on availability of space in one of the camps. This has resulted in 33 informal camps forming on the Syrian side of the border, with an estimated population of nearly 80,000. These camps have at times been attacked by Syrian regime airstrikes, and most recently in January have been caught in the middle of intense battles between ISIS and other opposition groups.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that over the past 18 days Turkish authorities have denied entry to more than 2,000 Syrian refugees, including women and children, fleeing the city of Raqqa. Most are in open air makeshift shelters near the barbed wire fence at the Tal Abyad border crossing, according to the Observatory. The border crossings at Jarablus and Tal Abyad have been closed since January 20th and January 9th respectively and both are reportedly under ISIS control.
As a strong ally of Turkey and a longtime advocate of the rights of refugees, the United States should urge Turkey not to prevent those fleeing violence in Aleppo, Raqqa, and other parts of Syria from reaching safety. Human Rights First researchers recently visited the Turkish and Jordanian borders with Syria and conducted interviews with dozens of refugees, some of whom had been denied access to protection. These interviews were turned into a report that included recommendations for the U.S. government to take action in support of refugees. The report, Refuge at Risk, recommended that the U.S. government:
- Urge Turkey to admit Syrian refugees who lack passports;
- Support meaningful border monitoring by the U.N. Refugee Agency and human rights monitors;
- Support refugee protection training and increased capacity at the Syria-Turkey border; and
- Provide bilateral aid to Turkey to contribute toward the cost of assisting refugees.