(Istanbul) – Turkey should allow Syrians at its border fleeing the fighting in and around Aleppo to seek protection in Turkey, Human Rights Watch said today. Forcing people to remain in a war zone, where they risk death and injury, is no solution to the challenge of protecting Syrians fleeing their country.
European Union governments should match their calls on Turkey to let Syrians enter the country with increased resettlement of Syrians from Turkey to the EU. Turkey hosts at least 2.5 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country and the largest number of refugees in any single country worldwide.
“Turkey’s generosity in sheltering 2.5 million refugees shouldn’t stop now and leave thousands of Syrians stranded at the edge of a war zone,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Governments in Turkey and the EU should keep all borders open to Syrians and others in need of protection.”
In late January 2016, Syrian government forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, began an offensive in northern Syria to break the siege imposed by armed opposition groups on the towns of Nubbul and Zahraa and to cut off the city of Aleppo from Turkey. Human Rights Watch has documented unlawful air strikes in the offensive, including the use of inherently indiscriminate cluster munitions.
According to the United Nations, between February 1 and 9, about 45,000 people fled the offensive and travelled to nearby border areas with Turkey, adding to the estimated 6.5 million Syrians already internally displaced in Syria.
On February 9, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu claimed that during a recent unspecified period, Turkey had allowed 10,000 Syrians to cross in a “controlled fashion.” The UN refugee agency in Turkey has not confirmed Turkey’s assertion.
Instead, aid agency staff told Human Rights Watch that while a few people with serious injuries have been allowed to cross to Turkey for medical treatment, thousands have been refused entry at the Öncüpınar/Bab al-Salama border crossing, remaining near the border in poor conditions. The rest have fled to the nearby towns of Azaz and Afrin or to eight old camps for internally displaced people to the east of Azaz along the Turkish border. Aid workers say the camps sheltered 40,000 displaced Syrians before the recent crisis and are now filled beyond capacity, with about 50,000 people.