Turkey should stop shooting at Syrian civilians fleeing fighting and immediately allow them to cross the Turkish border to seek protection, Human Rights Watch said today.
Renewed fighting between the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and armed opposition groups in Northern Aleppo has displaced at least 30,000 people in the past 48 hours, with Turkish border guards shooting at some of them as they approach Turkey’s new border wall.
Turkey’s border remains firmly shut, a year after the authorities started rejecting all but the most seriously injured Syrians. Turkeyhas previously indicated it wants to create a “safe zone” in Syria to which Syrians could ostensibly flee and Turkey could return Syrian refugees. In its March 8, 2016 deal with Turkey, the European Union said it would work with Turkey to “allow for the local population and refugees to live in areas which will be more safe.”
“As civilians flee ISIS fighters, Turkey is responding with live ammunition instead of compassion,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The whole world is talking about fighting ISIS, and yet those most at risk of becoming victims of its horrific abuses are trapped on the wrong side of a concrete wall.”
According to international aid workers in Turkey and heads of six of the 10 displaced persons camps east of Azaz near the Turkish border, ISIS advances on April 13 and 14 have forced out at least half the camps’ 60,000 residents. They have fled to other camps, to the Bab al-Salameh camp on the Turkish border and to the nearby town of Azaz. Three of the camps – Ikdah, Harameen and al-Sham – are now completely empty of the 24,000 people previously sheltering there.
On April 14, Human Rights Watch spoke with the representatives of six of the 10 camps and seven displaced Syrians who had been living in camps that had been taken over by ISIS or that were close to the fast-changing ISIS front line. All of the residents said they wanted to flee to Turkey but that the closed border meant they had nowhere to escape to. Some said they had stayed in the camps under ISIS-threat because they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to find shelter elsewhere, knowing other camps along the Turkish border were completely full. Others said they had returned to their nearby home villages even though they were still unsafe.
The head of Ikdah camp, on the Turkish border, said that ISIS had taken over the camp, which sheltered just under 10,000 people, early on April 14, fired shots in the air, and told residents to leave.