Index: EUR 44/009/2012
12 June 2012
Turkey: Ensure safety of Syrian refugees and access for national and international monitors
Amnesty International has written to the Turkish authorities with concerns regarding some aspects of the protection afforded to Syrian refugees in Turkey. Over 26,500 refugees are accommodated in camps in 10 locations by the Turkish authorities.
In addition to the 26,500 Syrian refugees who are being accommodated in Turkey, Syrian refugees are being hosted in other neighbouring countries including Jordan and Lebanon. Whilst exact figures are unclear, the UN Refugee agency- UNHCR and local NGOs estimate that there are between 25,000- 50,000 Syrians in Lebanon and some 15,000-20,000 Syrians in Jordan. Amnesty International is also closely monitoring the situation for Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.
In the letter to the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Amnesty International welcomed the fact that refugees were allowed to enter and stay in Turkey in line with the international law principle of non-refoulement. Amnesty International also welcomed efforts made by the government to tend to the Syrian refugees’ most immediate needs by providing them with accommodation, food, material assistance and medical care.
Amnesty International also raised concerns with the authorities regarding the location of the camps which are in close proximity to the Syrian border, deficiencies in registration and screening of new arrivals, the limited access to the camps for the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR and independent human rights organizations and some aspects of the protection regime.
Presently, Syrian refugees are accommodated in 10 camps in four border provinces in Hatay, Gaziantep, Kilis and Urfa. The close proximity of the camps to the border with Syria poses a serious security threat to those living there. The reported injuries among refugees at or near the Kilis camp in April 2012 caused by stray bullets from clashes in Syria are a tragic illustration of the dangers to refugees which the camps’ proximity to the border gives rise.
According to international standards, in order to safeguard the physical security of refugees, camps should be located at a reasonable distance from the frontiers of the countries of origin, at least 50 kilometres from the border.
Amnesty International acknowledges that while there may be logistical and practical challenges and considerations in relation to where the camps are located, the primary consideration should be the physical safety of the refugees. Drawing attention to the Turkish government’s primary responsibility for the safety and security of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Amnesty International urges the authorities to re-locate the camps to a reasonable and safe distance from the border with Syria in order to minimise any actual or potential threats and risks to refugees’ security as a result of fighting close to the border and to avoid exposing people to further harm.
Amnesty International considers that the close proximity of the refugee camps to the border with Syria is also directly detrimental to the Turkish authorities’ ability to ensure that the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum and refugee camps is not compromised.
Amnesty International considers that task of ensuring the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum and refugee camps, as well as ensuring the security and protection of refugees, would be greatly enhanced by re-locating the camps at a reasonable distance from the border. In addition, strengthening registration and screening procedures for new arrivals would increase the Turkish authorities’ ability to prevent infiltration of and ensure subversive activities are not carried out in the camps.
Registration and screening procedures
In addition to furthering the objective of seeking to maintain the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum and refugee camps, effective registration and screening procedures - which should include the disarmament of armed elements and the identification and separation of combatants - serve as an important protection tool in a number of other ways, as has been recognised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). For example, such procedures may be used as a means to prevent instances of refoulement and forcible recruitment, and also to ensure access to basic rights, family reunification, and to identify and respond to those refugees with specific vulnerabilities or protection needs.
Improved screening and registration would also ensure that special measures can be put in place for those refugees who may be facing particular risks or vulnerabilities including women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities. They may also be especially pertinent to individuals or groups who continue to be at risk or have protection concerns in the camps and/or who have long-term protection needs. In such circumstances, in particular, individuals should have prompt, safe and unimpeded access to UNHCR and individualised refugee status determination (RSD) procedures should they wish, beyond the current regime of temporary protection.
Amnesty International urges the Government to put in place a formal arrangement to ensure the access of intergovernmental organization investigators or government investigation teams so that they can investigate allegations of crimes under international law and other human rights abuses by all parties in Syria and do so in a way that does not endanger those cooperating with them in such investigations.
Amnesty International is concerned however that access to the camps for UNHCR has been restricted and that access for human rights civil society organizations has been denied.
UNHCR has been given some access to the camps and has been able to provide some technical advice. However, we understand that camp management as well as screening and registration procedures are delivered solely by your Government, via the Turkish Red Crescent, without any official, systematic and institutionalised monitoring of the same by UNHCR officials.
According to the Statute of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR is recognised as the competent agency to pursue protection, assistance and solutions for refugees. States have a duty to cooperate with UNHCR, who can only effectively discharge their mandate if they have access to the camp populations.
In light of this, Amnesty International is concerned at UNHCR’s lack of access to the refugee population in the camps. This hinders its ability to systematically supervise Turkey’s implementation of its international obligations towards the Syrian refugees currently hosted in the camps, including by monitoring and advising those carrying out registration and screening procedures. All of those activities are critical to the UNHCR’s discharge of its mandate.
In the current circumstances, vulnerable and at-risk refugees do not have access to UNHCR for advice, assistance or the possibility of accessing individualised RSD procedures.
It is also of concern that the Government has not yet permitted human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, to access the camps to meet with Syrian refugees there and to gather information pertaining to the ongoing crisis in Syria. Letters were sent by Amnesty International to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 10 June 2011, 28 June 2011, 11 October 2011 and 30 March 2012 respectively, requesting assistance to access the camps. To date, Amnesty International has not been granted permission to enter the camps. The only response from the Ministry dated 4 April 2012, stated that in view of Turkey’s cooperation with the international community, no individual applications for entry to the camps would be accepted.
For over a year, grave and systemic human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity, have been carried out against civilians in Syria. Amnesty International believes that many among the refugees currently hosted in the camps in Turkey may have witnessed or have information on such violations, and that they should be given access to human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, in order to provide their testimony should they wish to.
Amnesty International requests that human rights organisations are given access to all locations where refugees are accommodated in order to obtain testimonies, carry out research pertaining to the ongoing human rights abuses taking place in Syria, and to independently monitor conditions and structures in the camps.
Amnesty International is concerned that the current government policy of refusing access to independent civil society organizations both unfairly restricts the refugees’ rights, and is counter-productive. The refusal to grant access unfairly curtails Syrian refugees’ right to speak out regarding the situation in Syria. Furthermore, while reports indicate that the camps are well managed and that conditions are good, the refusal to allow independent monitoring may also give rise to suspicion that any concerns regarding conditions in the camps are being suppressed.
Amnesty International recognises that, in line with UNHCR guidance on such matters, in some instances of large scale displacement, at the very least it is important to establish a temporary protection regime. Whilst we are aware that there may be logistical and practical challenges and considerations vis a vis where the camps are located, the primary consideration should be the physical safety of the refugees which at a minimum ensures admission, protection againstrefoulement and access to basic provisions. While Amnesty International notes that the Turkish authorities have put in place a temporary protection regime, it is concerned that temporary protection may not be appropriate for those refugees who have long-term protection needs, and who will need and be entitled to durable solutions for their displacement. In such circumstances, these individuals should be identified at the earliest possible time and have the opportunity to go through full RSD procedures and be enabled to access the possibility of an appropriate durable solution. Amnesty International is concerned that a failure to identify individuals in need of long-term protection may put them at risk of refoulement in the medium to long term.
Amnesty International urges the government to:
ensure that all refugee camps are re-located at a reasonable and safe distance from the frontier with Syria in order to ensure the physical safety of refugees;
enhance and improve monitoring, screening and registration of new arrivals so as to preserve the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum and refugee camps;
ensure that screening and registration are carried out in order to identify and assist particular groups who may be at risk, have long-term protection needs;
provide information to all new arrivals on the temporary protection regime and their rights as refugees;
ensure that all refugees have full and unimpeded access to UNHCR, in particular refugees who wish to access an individualised RSD procedure, or whom otherwise wish to access UNHCR;
allow UNHCR to effectively discharge its mandate vis-a-vis the refugee population and in particular exercise its refugee protection functions;
ensure that intergovernmental organization investigators and government investigation teams can investigate without hindrance allegations of crimes under international law and other human rights abuses by all parties in Syria;
provide information of the presence of the investigators and ways in which they can provide information to them in complete security;
grant access for human rights and other civil society organizations, including Amnesty International, to all locations hosting Syrian refugee populations.