‘Turkey’s highly selective practice is appalling’ - Tirana Hassan
The Turkish authorities are denying entry to injured Syrian civilians who have fled the intense bombardment around the city of Aleppo, said Amnesty International from the Öncüpınar/Bab al-Salam Turkish-Syrian border crossing.
Amnesty has also documented how Turkish security forces have shot and injured civilians - including children - who out of desperation have attempted to cross the border unofficially with the help of smugglers. Meanwhile, Amnesty could find no evidence to support a claim by the Turkish authorities that 10,000 Syrian refugees had been allowed to cross the Öncüpınar/Bab al-Salam border gate.
Some 58,000 people have arrived in the Bab al-Salam area in the past two weeks according to UN estimates, after fleeing an intense ground and aerial offensive on opposition-held areas of northern Aleppo by Syrian government and allied forces. Some of the attacks appear to have targeted civilian residential areas as well as medical facilities, including in Azaz, north of Aleppo, and close to the border with Turkey. In addition, Amnesty has reviewed video clips and other images indicating attacks with inherently indiscriminate cluster munitions on civilian areas in northern Aleppo.
Most of Turkey’s official border gates with Syria remain closed. The Turkish authorities have only allowed entry to seriously injured people or those with an urgent humanitarian need, usually when fighting comes very close to the border. In practice this means that almost all Syrian refugees in Turkey have been forced to use difficult and dangerous irregular crossing points with the help of smugglers. A local Turkish humanitarian organisation says 110,000 internally-displaced people were already sheltering in eight camps along the Syrian side of the Bab al-Salam border crossing even before the latest influx. A ninth camp is currently under construction but will not be enough to accommodate all the new arrivals.
Turkey’s selective entry practices are worsening an already desperate humanitarian crisis at the border, where there has been a significant build-up of people in the past two weeks. Activists in Bab al-Salam told Amnesty that some families who had fled after their homes were destroyed have resorted to sleeping in cars or on the streets despite the freezing conditions.
Amnesty International Crisis Response Director Tirana Hassan said:
“People we spoke to painted a tragic picture of the desperate situation for the civilians who remain trapped between daily airstrikes and dire humanitarian conditions.
“Turkey’s highly selective practice is appalling - only severely injured people are allowed entry to seek medical treatment while everyone else fleeing the violence is left unprotected.
“The fact that Turkey is even restricting access to sick and injured Syrians shows how its current border control policies are a far cry from meeting its international obligations to offer protection. The border must remain open to all those fleeing conflict in Syria especially the injured and sick civilians being targeted by daily airstrikes on their homes, hospitals, and schools.”
Lack of medical facilities and dire conditions on Syrian side of border
The consequences for those prevented from entering Turkey are aggravated by the lack of adequate medical care inside Syria as a result of ongoing bombings of hospitals and other health care facilities by Russian and Syrian government strikes. At least five medical facilities were hit in Aleppo in January and at least a further four medical facilities on 15 February alone.
Testimonies from doctors and carers who were permitted to cross with their injured relatives through the Öncüpınar/Bab al-Salam border gate, as well as witnesses and doctors inside Syria, indicate that thousands of Syrians are stranded on the Syrian side of the border in dire conditions. A doctor from Azaz described to Amnesty the scramble to try to manage a sharp increase in injuries over past two weeks. Unable to adequately cope with serious but non-life-threatening injuries, they have transferred patients to the Syrian-Turkish border in the hope that they will be treated inside Turkey. The doctor told Amnesty:
“Because several hospitals are no longer in operation, we are struggling to provide treatment. We do not have enough surgeons or equipment. We are sending the injured in local ambulances to the hospital at the Syrian border crossing in Bab al-Salam requesting that they be transferred to Turkey but most have been turned back because they do not suffer from severe injuries.”
Syrian doctors explained to Amnesty that once injured people arrive at the Bab al-Salam border hospital, Turkish medics select cases to be transferred for treatment in Turkish hospitals. Others are turned back if their injuries are not deemed life-threatening and in need of immediate treatment. While Turkey has reportedly allowed a few dozen people with urgent medical needs in over the past two weeks, it has denied entry to individuals suffering from chronic diseases, such as cancer and those in need of dialysis, despite the fact that medical facilities in Syria do not have the medication or equipment to adequately treat such cases.
Families separated at the border
Witnesses and Syrian doctors also said that the Turkish authorities prevented families of those with life-threatening injuries entering together, in some cases allowing the patient and a carer but leaving the rest of the family - including children - behind. In at least two cases, injured parents or children were separated when families were not allowed to cross together.
One mother accompanying her severely injured 11-year-old son to Turkey told Amnesty how she was separated from him at the border. Despite the boy being wounded in the leg along with her husband in an air strike, he was not permitted to cross the border with the rest of the family: “They [Russian and Syrian forces] had been bombing all day … My husband and 11-year-old son were injured by shrapnel in the legs when an air strike struck a few metres away on 8 February around 1am as we slept. They [Turkish authorities] only allowed me and my three children under five … to cross with my husband in the ambulance leaving my injured son behind because his injuries were not seen as life threatening.”
Another man told Amnesty that his daughter who was injured by shrapnel in her back from an airstrike in Kal Jabrine on 15 February was not allowed to cross to Turkey with her husband and one-year-old daughter who were both severely injured. The father added that his son-in-law is in intensive care and his granddaughter died from her injuries, but Turkey still denied access to the mother.
Shootings at border crossing
The doctor from Azaz and a paramedic also told Amnesty that Syrians who tried to cross the Kilis border with smugglers have been shot by members of Turkey’s security forces. Over the past two months the Syrian hospitals in Azaz have received on average of two cases a day of civilians shot attempting such crossings. In one case a child of around ten years old was shot in the head. There is no evidence to suggest that armed groups are present in the border area which is also a considerable distance away from the frontlines. Amnesty has documented many similar such cases during the past two years or more.
Turkey needs EU assistance
This latest influx of Syrian refugees to Turkey’s border underlines the need for the EU and others to establish a credible resettlement programme from Turkey, which already accommodates more than 2.6 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country.
Amnesty believes that anyone from Syria seeking asylum should be considered to be in need of international protection due to the widespread human rights abuses being committed in the conflict including war crimes and crimes against humanity. In mid-to-late 2015 following the large influx of refugees to the EU through irregular routes from Turkey, the European Union made a deal with Turkey to combat irregular migration across their land and sea borders.