Some 1.6 million Syrians have crossed the border into Turkey since the conflict began in 2011 but only 220,000 of them are living in refugee camps that are now running at full capacity
Some 1.6 million Syrians have crossed the border into Turkey since the conflict began in 2011 but only 220,000 of them are living in refugee camps that are now running at full capacity © Aris Messinis - AFP/File
Some 1.6 million Syrians have crossed the border into Turkey since the conflict began in 2011 but only 220,000 of them are living in refugee camps that are now running at full capacity
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Dilay GUNDOGAN
Last updated: November 20, 2014

Turkey's response to Syria refugee crisis now showing strains, says Amnesty

Banner Icon Turkey's widely-admired response to the refugee crisis sparked by the war in neighbouring Syria is now showing its limitations, with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees living in destitution and others being denied entry, Amnesty International warned Thursday.

Turkey has taken in 1.6 million Syrian refugees since the Syrian conflict began in 2011 but only 220,000 of these are living in refugee camps -- which are now operating at full capacity -- and the rest are fending for themselves, Amnesty said.

"Turkey's response to the Syrian refugee crisis, despite its significant resource commitment and many positive policy initiatives, is increasingly showing its limitations," it said in the report, entitled "Struggling to Survive".

"A growing number of Syrian refugees in Turkey are struggling to survive," it said saying that hundreds of thousands were "likely to be destitute or at serious risk of destitution."

Amnesty praised the "well-resourced" refugee camps that had been set up in Turkey and the move by the Turkish authorities to allow free healthcare to all Syrian refugees.

It contrasted this with the paltry response by the international community to the crisis, complaining of "grossly insufficient funding commitments" from the West.

But Amnesty complained that some are now being denied access to the safety of Turkish territory.

Those who try and cross illegally, avoiding official border crossings, are at risk of abuses including "being fired on with live ammunition, or torture and other ill-treatment."

Amnesty said it had gathered evidence of 17 fatal shootings and 10 incidents in which 31 individuals were allegedly beaten by Turkish border guards.

It said the 17 deaths were reported to have been caused by the use of live ammunition between December 2013 and August 2014. It said the authorities had not responded to requests for comment.

"Syrian refugees are being denied access to Turkey, pushed back or even killed or injured while attempting the crossing," Amnesty said, calling for an investigation of the abuses.

"It is clear that Turkey’s current border policies are not working."

'SOMETIMES I REGRET COMING'

Gani Ozdemir, a 35-year-old Syrian refugee, said at a news conference in Istanbul that his 14-year-old son Ali was shot in the head by border guards in May as he attempted to cross into Turkey with nine others.

The bullet entered his skull and left him blind in both eyes. Ali returned to Syria and was eventually brought into Turkey for emergency medical treatment.

"We couldn't take it anymore. But many times I have wondered whether if it would have been better not to have come to Turkey," he said.

Amnesty said far more abuses have been recorded this year because there is pressure on Turkish border guards to limit the number of refugees entering Turkey.

Officially however, Turkey remains committed to an open door policy for Syrian refugees, who Ankara prefers to call "guests" rather than "refugees".

Amnesty praised Turkish government plans to issue temporary identity cards for all "registered" Syrian refugees, which will grant them a number of rights such as access to education and health care.

Another measure that will grant a certain number of them work permits is on the way.

Andrew Gardner of Amnesty International called the moves "a big step forward" but noted that almost half of the Syrian refugees living in Turkey are unregistered, meaning they are not eligible for their "earned rights."

"It is almost forbidden to offer even basic services to unregistered refugees. And those who managed to get themselves registered have so far not seen any benefits."

"It is inhumane to prevent services to those people."

A spokesman for Turkey's emergency management agency AFAD pointed to its recent work in accommodating some 200,000 refugees who fled the Syrian region of Kobane.

"Building on four years of experience, we made food, housing, healthcare and psychological support services available to the most recent wave of displaced Syrians," the spokesman said.

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