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Turkey forcing asylum seekers to return to war-torn Syria: Amnesty

Rights group says returns raise serious questions about an EU deal to return asylum seekers to Turkey, due to start on Monday
Turkish soldiers use water cannon to disperse Syrian refugees in June 2015 (AFP)

Turkey has been forcibly returning Syrian asylum seekers at a rate of about 100 a day since January, a new Amnesty International report said on Friday, raising concerns about the EU’s migrant swap scheme with Turkey.

A woman who was eight months pregnant and three young children are among those who have been forcibly returned to Syria, according to Amnesty’s research.

Amnesty says the returns, which are illegal under international law, are an “open secret” in the region.

"The inhumanity and scale of the returns is truly shocking; Turkey should stop them immediately," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s director for Europe and Central Asia.

Border guards were also accused this week of using lethal force to stop people crossing over into Turkish territory.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitor, on Thursday cited sources in the border region as saying that Turkish border guards have shot dead 16 people – including three minors – trying to cross over from Syria in the past three months.

“Just last week a lady was killed and her daughter was seriously wounded,” director Rami Abdurrahman told the EU Observer news site.

“We need some pressure from the European Union to make Turkey stop killing people.”

Turkey has denied both reports, with an official calling accusations that its border guards have used live ammunition to prevent border crossings “quite outrageous”.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry also told Reuters that Amnesty’s report is inaccurate, maintaining that “none of the Syrians that have demanded protection from our country are being sent back to their country by force, in line with international and national law”.

The European Union considers Turkey a "safe country", and recently signed a deal that will see thousands of asylum seekers sent back there from Europe, in return for a funding boost and resettlement of people currently living in camps in Turkey.

The first returns are due to begin on 4 April, with a spokesperson for the European Commission telling EU Observer that "everyone’s working very hard to attain that goal".

Amnesty has criticised the deal, questioning whether Turkey – which currently hosts over 2.7 million Syrians – can be considered a safe country to return asylum seekers to.

"In their desperation to seal their borders, EU leaders have wilfully ignored the simplest of facts: Turkey is not a safe country for Syrian refugees and is getting less safe by the day," said Dalhuisen.

"The large-scale returns of Syrian refugees we have documented highlight the fatal flaws in the EU-Turkey deal. It is a deal that can only be implemented with the hardest of hearts and a blithe disregard for international law."

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