Turkey has stopped registering Syrian refugees, say human rights group
By Bethan McKernan
Human Rights Watch says move leaves refugees vulnerable to deportation, coerced returns to Syria and the denial of basic services such as healthcare and education.
Several Turkish provinces have suspended the registration process for newly-arrived Syrian refugees, a new report from Human Rights Watch has said.
Only a “handful” of people fleeing the conflict next door were being registered as asylum seekers, leaving refugees vulnerable to unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria and the denial of basic services such as health care and education, the watchdog said on Monday.
Researchers concluded the move is designed to stop more Syrians fleeing to Turkey, which already hosts 3.5 million refugees. The border with the war-torn country has been closed since 2015, meaning new arrivals are smuggled into the country or manage to dodge border patrols.
Nine provinces on the border, as well as Istanbul governorate, were guilty of the practice, HRW said, adding that since 2015 many Syrians had also had their freedom of movement within Turkey restricted without special travel permits.
Turkey has denied the allegations in the new report.
“We have always welcomed Syrians and we still welcome them“, a Turkish official told AFP. “People who are in Turkey have access to all the services they need.”
In a statement, HRW associate refugee programme director Gerry Simpson also accused Europe - which is due to release a second batch of $3bn (£2.3bn) of funding to Turkey under its migration deal - of “turning a blind eye” to the problems facing refugees in the country.
”Forcing Syrians who manage to get past Turkey's border guards to live in legal limbo only risks driving them underground and onward to the EU,” he said.
Turkey has taken in more refugees from the complex Syrian civil war than any other country, but the influx of people has put pressure on services and cause tensions with local communities.
Newly re-elected president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised to return all 3.5million back to Syria.
In recent months it has helped resettle mainly Arab refugees in parts of northern Syria it seized from Kurdish forces in January this year.