London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Turkey is struggling to accommodate 1.6 million Syrian refugees and its border guards have in some cases shot at Syrians trying to cross the border, said a report issued by Amnesty International on Thursday.
At least 17 people have been killed by border guards using live ammunition at unofficial crossing points between December 2013 and August 2014, the human rights organization stated in its new report on Turkey’s handling of the Syrian refugee crisis.
Turkey officially operates an open-door policy toward Syrian refugees and the new findings come only a week after the Turkish labor minister announced plans to grant refugees greater education, healthcare and employment rights.
Amnesty International documented several instances of extreme abuse by border guards who allegedly tortured refugees before forcing them to return to Syria.
“In the first part of this crisis, the first couple of years, Turkey were rightly applauded for their handling of the Syria refugee crisis,” Syria expert Dr. Christopher Phillips, a lecturer in Middle East politics at Queen Mary University of London, told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“[However], as the numbers have continued to swell, Turkey has struggled,” he added.
The problem lies not only with the increasing numbers of refugees arriving, said Phillips, but also with those who are already there. “There have been instances of difficulties between the host population and the refugees, in some instances causing the refugee camps to move,” he said.
Turkey has witnessed several violent demonstrations against the presence of Syrian refugees in its major cities and the recent announcement by the labor ministry to provide Syrians with work permits is likely to heighten tensions between the host and refugee communities.
The report criticized the international community’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis, which it described as an “abject failure, with hopes of safety and security for most refugees cruelly denied.”
Of the 497 million US dollars earmarked for Turkey in the UN’s 2014 regional funding appeal for Syrian refugees, only 28 percent had been received by November 5, 2014. European countries have offered to take in only a tiny fraction of the total number of Syrian refugees, with neighboring countries taking in 97 percent of Syria’s refugees. A total of 3.2 million Syrian refugees are living in the neighboring countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey, according to the latest figures released by the UN refugee agency.
Speaking of the crisis last year Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said that the world was witnessing the worst refugee outflow seen in a generation, and the numbers of displaced have continued to climb rapidly since then.
In September Turkey received an additional 200,000 refugees who fled the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the Syrian border town of Kobani. It was the largest single exodus of the Syrian conflict so far, according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.