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HRW urges Turkey to stop using lethal force against fleeing Syrians

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Syrian refugee children who fled Turkey's military operation against Syria's region of Afrin stand in a street at a refugee camp in the Syrian town of A'zaz on January 26, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Human Rights Watch has urged Turkey to put an end to the use of “lethal force” against Syrians trying to cross into the country and called on Ankara to open its borders to asylum seekers.

"Syrians fleeing to the Turkish border seeking safety and asylum are being forced back with bullets and abuse," HRW's deputy Middle East director Lama Fakih said on Saturday.

"The Turkish government should issue standard instructions to the border guards at all crossing points that lethal force must not be used against asylum seekers and no asylum seeker is to be mistreated, but should be given access to medical aid when required," HRW said.

The rights group said at least 10 people, including a child, were shot dead by Turkish border guards, while others described being detained, beaten and prevented from seeking medical attention.

"It should ensure that all crossing points comply with these core legal obligations, as well as the ban on refoulement," HRW said.

The warning comes as Turkey has been waging “Operation Olive Branch” against Afrin region in northwest Syria since January 20 in a bid to eliminate the US-backed Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara views as a terror organization and the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The latter has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.

Meanwhile, HRW citing UN figures says escalation of tensions in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib has displaced over 270,000 people since mid-December.

A Syrian family displaced as a result of Turkey’s military operation against the Syrian region of Afrin sits in a shelter in the city of Afrin on January 26, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Many Syrian refugees have tried to flee into Turkey, but border guards have been "indiscriminately shooting at and summarily returning Syrian asylum seekers," HRW said.

Turkey, which already hosts an estimated 3.5 million Syrian refugees, has tried to prevent any asylum seeker from entering its southern border since August 2015.

However, some Syrians have managed to enter Turkey with the help of smugglers and shared their accounts with HRW.

HRW warned that Syria was too dangerous for civilians to be sent back, particularly after Turkey launched its operation against the Afrin enclave.

"Conditions in Syria are not safe for refugee returns," Fakih said. "With hostilities in Afrin contributing to the growing displacement crisis in the country, Turkey should allow the thousands of desperate Syrians seeking refuge to cross the border," she pointed out.

Meanwhile, Ankara has warned that the Afrin offensive could expand to the nearby Syrian city of Manbij.

Turkey has also been assisting militants from the so-called Free Syrian Army to fight against the Kurdish fighters.

The Syrian government has condemned the “brutal Turkish aggression” against Afrin, rejecting Ankara’s claim about having informed Damascus of the operation.

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