Iraqi, Jordanian, and Turkish border guards are pushing back tens of thousands of people trying to flee Syria. Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey have either closed numerous border crossings entirely or allowed only limited numbers of Syrians to cross, leaving tens of thousands stranded in dangerous conditions in Syria’s conflict-ridden border regions, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“Syria’s neighbors should stop pushing desperate people back to places where their lives are in danger,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. “International donors should help Syria’s neighbors by generously supporting them and humanitarian agencies assisting almost two million refugees.”
HRW which has documented the refugee situation on Syria’s borders says that although Jordan denies it has closed its borders, recently arrived Syrian refugees in Jordan say that Jordanian border guards blocked their and others’ entry for days or weeks in May. Since late 2011, Jordan has prevented Palestinians, Iraqis, single military-aged men, and anyone without identity documents from entering Jordan.
HRW has also found that authorities in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) admit that they closed their border with Syria in May, and that since mid-June only some Syrians in need of emergency humanitarian assistance have been allowed to cross while authorities in central Iraq maintain that they will admit “urgent humanitarian cases” and family reunification cases. But they have severely limited the number of Syrians allowed to enter since August 2012, and new arrivals virtually ceased in late March.
Turkey is blocking the entry of thousands of Syrians at the Bab al-Salam, Atma, and other border crossings with Syria and only sporadically allows small numbers from the Bab al-Salam camp and other displaced Syrian camps in Syria close to the Turkish border to cross into Turkey, with thousands blocked for weeks or months inside Syria, HRW also found.
In October, a senior Turkish official told Human Rights Watch that the country’s refugee camps were full and said that instead of allowing more Syrian refugees to enter, the government was making sure that assistance reached Syrians in areas close to the border.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of mid-June Jordan was hosting over 480,000 Syrian refugees who were either already registered or being registered by UNHCR, while Turkey was hosting over 387,000, and Iraq over 158,000. Lebanon has over 550,000 UNHCR-registered or registering Syrian refugees, adding approximately 10 per cent to its population, while the Lebanese government estimates the number of Syrians in the country at more than one million.
“Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey risk turning Syria into an open-air prison for tens of thousands of Syrians unable to escape the carnage in their country,” Simpson said. “Neither the pressure those countries are under due to rising refugee numbers, nor giving aid inside Syria, can justify violating people’s basic right to seek asylum from persecution and other abuse.”