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Group: Turkish troops shooting Syrian civilians along border

BEIRUT — A leading international rights group on Thursday said Turkish border guards have been indiscriminately shooting at Syrian civilians along the border with the war-wrecked country, as well as using excessive force against asylum seekers and migrants trying to cross into Turkey.

There was no immediate response from Ankara to the accusations by Human Rights Watch.

The New York-based group also urged the Turkish government to investigate and hold accountable border guards responsible for “these grave human rights violations, including unlawful killings, and end the longstanding impunity for these abuses.”

Though there have been similar incidents in the past years, the latest followed a February earthquake that hit southern Turkey and northern Syria, killing over 50,000 people, including more than 6,000 in Syria.

In Turkey, anti-immigrant sentiment is nearing a boiling point, fueled by Turkey’s economic woes. With unemployment high and the prices of food and housing skyrocketing, many Turks have turned their frustration toward the country’s roughly 5 million foreign residents, particularly the 3.7 million who fled the civil war in Syria.

Human Rights Watch said the latest shooting took place on March 11, when Turkish border guards “viciously beat and tortured” a group of eight Syrians who were attempting to cross irregularly into Turkey.

A man and a boy died in Turkish custody, while the six others were seriously hurt, HRW said . It added that six of the guards involved are under investigation by Turkish authorities for their alleged role in the abuse.

HRW said that on March 13, a Turkish border guard shot and killed a 59-year-old Syrian man who was plowing his land in an area adjacent to the border. The watchdog said it has written to Turkish officials asking for information about both incidents.

“Turkish gendarmes and armed forces in charge of border control routinely abuse and indiscriminately shoot at Syrians along the Syrian-Turkish border, with hundreds of deaths and injuries recorded in recent years,” said Hugh Williamson, HRW director for Europe and Central Asia.

Ankara has been taking strict measures over the past years to prevent the flow of refugees from Syria. Well over 1 million migrants entered the European Union in 2015, many of them fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq. The arrivals through Turkey overwhelmed facilities on the Greek islands, and sparked one of the EU’s biggest-ever political crises.

To persuade Turkey to stop people leaving its territory, the 27-nation bloc offered Ankara 6 billion euros to care for the Syrian refugees and the prospect of fast-track EU membership talks and visa-free travel in Europe for its citizens. Arrivals quickly dropped to a relative trickle, and the EU is keen to update the arrangement.

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