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New Syrian refugees not welcomed in Turkey, says Human Rights Watch

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)
A Syrian refugee hands a toddler over a broken border fence into Turkey in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey. (File photo by AP)

Human Rights Watch has accused Turkish authorities of practically blocking new refugee arrivals from Syria, saying the registration process for refugees has almost fully stopped in nine provinces on or near the Syrian border as well as in Istanbul.

The HRW said Monday that Syrian refugees had been subject to “unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria, and the denial of health care and education” as a result of Turkey’s refusal to register all but a “handful” of them.

The rights group, which is based in the US, said the suspension of registration was the latest effort by Turkey to “deny new asylum seekers protection,” adding that the border between Syria and Turkey was effectively “sealed-off.”

Turkey is hosting some 3.5 million refugees from war-torn Syria. However, the Turks seem no longer generous enough to accept new arrivals, with reports suggesting refugees are being returned to areas in northern Syria where Turkey has a military presence.

According to the HRW, “Only registered Syrians who obtain a special travel permit have been allowed to travel within Turkey” since August 2015.

Two Syrians walk along a fence near the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey, on November 30, 2016. (Photo by Reuters)

A Turkish official denied HRW’s description of the new situation of refugees, saying Syrians have always been welcomed in Turkey.

“We still welcome them ... people who are in Turkey have access to all the services they need,” said the official, adding, “Some Syrians are choosing to go back to areas liberated by Turkey ... We never deport to Syria.”

HRW’s associate refugee program director Gerry Simpson also blamed the European Union for the suspension of refugees’ registration in Turkey, saying the Europeans were clearly keen to limit the refugee flow to Europe based on an agreement they reached with Turkey in March 2015.

Simpson said the EU was “turning a blind eye to Turkey's latest steps to block and discourage people fleeing Syria.”

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