Turkish border guards have killed or injured more than a dozen Syrian refugees as they tried to cross into Turkey, Human Rights Watch said in a report issued on Tuesday.
The monitoring group said that Turkish border guards had beaten and shot numerous Syrian migrants during the months of March and April, killing five people and wounding 14 others.
“While senior Turkish officials claim they are welcoming Syrian refugees with open borders and open arms, their border guards are killing and beating them,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Firing at traumatized men, women, and children fleeing fighting and indiscriminate warfare is truly appalling.”
Turkey, which is host to three million Syrian refugees and has spent billions of dollars caring for them, vehemently denies the accusations. Ankara has always maintained that it has an “open-door” policy toward migrants, although thousands of refugees fleeing from the conflict in Syria in recent months have become trapped at the border, unable to pass into Turkey.
A government spokesman said Tuesday that Turkey’s open-door policy did not amount to open borders, and that the country admitted refugees at designated points of entry when there is an imminent threat to their lives. In other cases, Turkish aid organizations deliver humanitarian aid to communities and refugees camps on Syrian soil, the official said.
A video that accompanied the Human Rights Watch report showed refugees being beaten by what appeared to be border guards, as well as the battered corpses of a man and a woman. Eyewitnesses identified the assailants as Turkish soldiers, the report said.
The reports of abuse come weeks after European leaders praised Turkey for its treatment of refugees. Last month, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council visited a refugee camp in southeastern Turkey near the Syrian border and said that Turkey had shown an “example for the whole world on how we should treat refugees.”
In March, the European Union reached a contentious deal with Turkey to curb the flow of migrants into Europe. Under the terms of the pact, migrants who arrive in Greece illegally will be sent back to Turkey. The European Union will resettle a limited number of Syrian refugees from Turkey while pledging $6.8 billion to Turkey to improve conditions for the migrants living there.