Turkey must not force shipwrecked refugees to return to Syria and Iraq

  • Turkish coastguard accused of shooting at shipwrecked refugees, 22 dead
  • “To shoot at a boat carrying people fleeing conflict and then to detain those who survived the resulting shipwreck is callous beyond belief.” – Andrew Gardner

The Turkish authorities must not forcibly return a group of Syrian and Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers who are currently being held in a camp against their will, after surviving a shipwreck in a boat that they say was shot at by the Turkish coastguard, said Amnesty International today. 

A group of 250 mostly Syrian and Iraqi asylum seekers and refugees were travelling from Turkey to Greece’s Aegean islands on 15 September. Several refugees told Amnesty that the Turkish coastguard fired shots at their boat, which then sank. At least 22 people died, including children.

Andrew Gardner, Amnesty’s researcher on Turkey, said:

“If the accounts of those on the boat are confirmed, Turkey may be responsible for the deaths of 22 people.

“The lack of humanity displayed by the Turkish authorities in this case is almost inconceivable. To shoot at a boat carrying people fleeing conflict and then to detain those who survived the resulting shipwreck is callous beyond belief.

“Forcing refugees and asylum-seekers back to conflict zones violates international law and shows a complete disregard for human life. They must release all remaining asylum-seekers and refugees from the camp and grant them protection.”

According to the Syrian refugees, the Turkish authorities told them that they will be kept in the Düziçi camp unless they agree to return to Syria. They could only do so by using dangerous border crossings under control of armed groups allegedly responsible for serious human rights abuses and war crimes. A number of Syrian refugees have already been returned directly to Syria.

A group of Iraqi asylum seekers were already released from the camp on the condition they return to Iraq.  Amnesty has spoken to one of them who is now in hiding in Baghdad, fearing for his life.

Amnesty is calling for a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the circumstances of the interception of the boat and the loss of 22 lives.

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