Syrian refugees tortured and killed at Turkish border, at risk of deportation from Lebanon

In a statement, Human Rights Watch claims that Turkish border guards are responsible for  abuses and violations enjoying “long-standing impunity”. Since the start of the year, at least 12 people have been killed and 20 wounded, including a boy. Meanwhile, intolerance and hostility towards refugees are growing in Lebanon.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – Turkey has been accused again of abusing and violating the human rights of Syrian refugees on its territory, while in Lebanon deportation is becoming an ever-greater possibility amid a climate of growing intolerance.

In a statement released yesterday, Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international human rights advocacy NGO, slams Turkish border guards for shooting, torturing and using excessive force against Syrians who try to flee their country which has been devastated by war, and more recently, by an earthquake.

Based on non-exhaustive data from a local monitoring group, HRW cites at least 277 incidents between October 2015 and April 2023.

The New York-based rights group goes on to urge Turkish authorities to investigate border guards, hold to account those responsible for "grave human rights violations, including unlawful killings”, and end "long-standing impunity for these abuses".

“Turkish border guards are indiscriminately shooting at Syrian civilians on the border [. . .] as well as torturing and using excessive force against asylum seekers and migrants trying to cross into Turkey,” the HRW’s statement reads.

What is more, “Turkey's generous hosting of large numbers of Syrians does not absolve it of its obligations to respect the rights of others seeking protection at its borders," it adds. When Syria’s civil broke out, Turkey welcomed Syrian refugees in the name of Islamic solidarity, only to backtrack later.

Citing an 11 March incident, HRW states that Turkish border guards "intercepted and tortured a group of eight Syrians who had attempted to cross into Turkey [. . .] killing a boy and one man" and returning the others to Syria.

“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," said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Arbitrary killings of Syrians are particularly egregious and part of a pattern of brutality by Turkish border guards that the government has failed to curb or investigate effectively,” he added.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor, reports that Turkish border guards have shot dead 12 Syrians and wounded 20 others since the start of the year.

Despite officially closing its border with Syria, Turkey over the years has regularly allowed access for humanitarian and medical reasons, and has at times allowed Syrians to go home for family visits during major holidays.

However, since the two countries were hit by a devastating earthquake on 6 February, killing tens of thousands of people, Turkey has increased border restrictions.

The situation is not much better in Lebanon, where the local population is growing increasingly impatient towards the refugees blamed for the country’s crippling economic crisis.

Lebanese authorities note that the country is host to about two million Syrians, far more than the more than 800,000 officially registered with the United Nations, the highest ratio of refugees to resident population in the world.

The Lebanese government – at times backed by Church leaders – has long called for the repatriation of Syrian refugees, in some cases trying to pass off deportations as "voluntary".

In recent weeks, the Lebanese army has intensified its crackdown on undocumented Syrians, with about 450 arrested and at least 66 deported.

In view of the situation, Amnesty International has urged Lebanese authorities to "immediately stop deportations”, adding that refugees risk "torture or persecution" upon return.