‘No hope’ Turkish border guards killing Syrian civilians will face justice, HRW tells RT

Human Rights Watch is investigating reports that Turkish border guards killed an entire family of Syrian refugees fleeing the war-torn country. As Ankara denies the accusations, HRW told RT it holds “no hope” that those responsible will face justice.

Up to 11 Syrian civilians, including an entire family, were shot dead as they tried to cross into Turkey at the Khirbet al-Jouz crossing over the weekend, according to various media outlets. The footage supposedly taken in the aftermath of the shooting showed a number of slain women and children.

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A representative of the Human Rights Watch, Gerry Simpson, confirmed to RT that the watchdog is investigating the shocking reports.

“We still have to establish the details, but it does look like a group of Syrian asylum seekers were indeed shot at by Turkish border guards,” Simpson told RT. “Initial interviews … suggest that at least six people, mostly women and children, were killed in an area where the Human Rights Watch has previously documented Turkish border guards shooting and killing and injuring other Syrian asylum seekers in April and May this year.”

An HRW report last month accused Turkish border guards of regularly shooting and assaulting Syrian civilians trying to cross from Syria in search of asylum. Turkey, as it has in the past, once again denied shooting the civilians over the weekend, claiming that reports “do not reflect the truth.”

“Our security forces are acting within a completely legal framework while intervening on border incidents and illegal crossing attempts,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic said.

A Turkish military official also told Reuters that border guards only fired warning shots to scare off a group of people who tried to cross into Turkey illegally.

“Claims that Turkish soldiers killed nine people that were trying to cross the border in Hatay province ... are not true… there was an attempt to cross the border illegally, but no shots were fired directly on people,” the military source said. “After warning shots, a group of seven to eight people ran toward the woods.”

Turkey is gradually clamping down on illegal border crossings, as it struggles to cope with 2.7 million Syrian refugees already living in the country. Border patrols have intensified after EU-Turkey refugee agreement signed earlier this year.

Simpson noted that the shootings of Syrian civilians at the border intensified with the implementation of the EU-Turkey refugee deal in which Brussels pledged to pay €6 billion, grant visa-free travel to Turkish nationals and speed up EU accession talks with Ankara. In exchange, Turkey agreed to take back all irregular refugees from Greece while allowing up to a certain number of asylum seekers to travel to the EU legally.

“Since March this year, 2016, Turkish border guards repeatedly, aggressively patrolled the border, which is when we first started hearing reports of shooting at Syrian civilians who are trying to flee the carnage in Syria,” Simpson told RT.

The HRW representative said that the watchdog is “concerned” that the United Nations and the European Union have “remained silent,” while Ankara shows no intent to find and punish those responsible.

“We have received indirect response by the Turkish military saying that if such cases are brought to the attention of the local prosecutors there will be investigations. However we know those empty statements, and that to date no such investigations have taken place.”

“So for now, we have no hope that there will be accountability in Turkey for the commanders who are executing these orders, nor the politicians, who are clearly allowing these things to happen.”

On Monday, the HRW reiterated that Turkey’s border closure to refugees from Syria constitutes refoulement - a situation in which people are pushed back to a country where their lives would be threatened - as it questioned the ethics of the EU-Turkey migrant agreement. HRW particularly urged the EU to recognize that conditions on the ground in Turkey cannot be considered “legally safe.”

“New legal analysis and research demonstrate in detail why the quality of protection in Turkey for Syrians does not rise to the level required for 'safe third country' or 'first country of asylum' returns,” HRW said Monday, urging the European Union to stop sending refugees back to Turkey.