'Truly appalling': Turkish border guards continue to shoot Syrian refugees, HRW says

Turkish border guards are continuing to shoot and abuse Syrian refugees who are crossing into the country, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). The rights group, citing the deaths of several asylum seekers, has called on Ankara to investigate.

According to HRW, border guards used excessive force against Syrians and a smuggler trying to reach Turkey in March and April. Five people were reportedly killed, including a child, and 14 others were injured.

“Firing at traumatized men, women, and children fleeing fighting and indiscriminate warfare is truly appalling,” Human Rights Watch researcher Gerry Simpson said in a statement.

Citing witnesses, HRW mentioned six incidents of abuse which reportedly took place near the Khurbat al Juz-Güveççi border crossing, around 50km (30 miles) south of the Turkish city of Antakya. HRW has published a video of witness accounts online.

“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. They stopped screaming and shouting. I knew right away they had been killed,” the rights group quoted a refugee as saying.

Turkey has repeatedly denied reports that its guards are shooting at refugees.

Meanwhile, HRW also called for Turkey to reopen its border to Syrians – despite the fact that Ankara insists the country has an open-door policy for migrants.

“While senior Turkish officials claim they are welcoming Syrian refugees with open borders and open arms, their border guards are killing and beating them,” Simpson said.

In March, Ankara and the EU struck a deal which allows Greece to send back illegal migrants who reached its shores from Turkey. In exchange, the bloc agreed to take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey. Criticism of the deal began soon after its announcement, with Amnesty International and other human rights organizations claiming that Turkey isn't a “safe” place for refugees. 

Despite the controversy surrounding the country's treatment of asylum seekers, Turkey is host to the largest number of refugees in the world, including 2.7 million Syrian refugees.

Europe continues to face the worst refugee crisis since World War II, with most asylum seekers hailing from war-torn Syria, where around 250,000 people have been killed and more than 12 million displaced since 2011, according to UN figures.