Sunday 25 September 2016

Turkish border guards 'shoot children as young as three'

Louisa Loveluck in Istanbul

Published 11/05/2016 | 02:30

Turkish soldiers stand guard as a Syrian refugee boy waits behind the border fences to cross into Turkey on the Turkish-Syrian border, near the southeastern town of Akcakale in Sanliurfa province.
Turkish soldiers stand guard as a Syrian refugee boy waits behind the border fences to cross into Turkey on the Turkish-Syrian border, near the southeastern town of Akcakale in Sanliurfa province.

Turkish border guards are still shooting at Syrians fleeing violence in their hometowns, killing or injuring children as young as three, Human Rights Watch said yesterday.

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The rights group said Turkish border guards in March and April used excessive force against Syrians and a smuggler trying to reach Turkey, killing five people, including a child and injuring 14 others.

Six of the incidents took place near the Khurbat al Juz-Güveççi border crossing, around 50km south of the Turkish city of Antakya.

Footage obtained by Human Rights Watch appeared to show the corpses of a man and a woman who had been shot, as well as deep welts on the torsos of people who said they had been beaten in custody.

An eyewitness to the deaths of a Syrian man and woman on April 17 near the Khurbat al Juz-Güveççi crossing said their group had been met with a hail of bullets as they approached the border.

"The women started screaming and the children started crying, but the shooting continued. We all threw ourselves onto the ground, covering the children. I was lying close to my sister and my cousin, and the bullets hit them while we were lying down," he said. "They stopped screaming and shouting. I knew right away they had been killed."

Six years into the Syrian civil war, Turkey says it is currently hosting 2.7 million refugees.

Large sections of Turkey's southern frontier have been closed and last August, border police began pushing back Syrian asylum seekers trying to enter the country.

In mid-April, guards blocked thousands of fleeing displaced persons after their camps near the border had been hit by artillery fire.

A 35-year-old man from the west Syrian city of Homs said he had been thrashed and kicked in detention, then shot in the back of the leg as he trudged back to the war he had just left.

"I was just 15 metres away," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity from a hospital bed in the south Turkish town of Kilis.

His doctor said he was left bleeding on the ground for hours before medics were called to bring him across the border for treatment.

Requests for comment on the part of the Turkish authorities went unanswered.

"While senior Turkish officials claim they are welcoming Syrian refugees with open borders and open arms, their border guards are killing and beating them," said Gerry Simpson, a senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Traumatised

"Firing at traumatised men, women, and children fleeing fighting and indiscriminate warfare is truly appalling."

It was also announced yesterday that Germany's registered influx of asylum seekers declined to the lowest in almost two years in April, underscoring Chancellor Angela Merkel's dependence on a European Union accord with Turkey to restrict refugees from entering the EU through Greece.

Questions about the pact's viability increased after Turkey's negotiator, Ahmet Davutoglu, quit as prime minister last week in a power struggle with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Yigit Bulut, chief adviser to Mr Erdogan, criticised the EU on Monday for holding off on visa-free travel for Turks and said he always doubted the March 18 deal would work.  

Irish Independent

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