Human Rights Watch - Defending Human Rights Worldwide
Sat, 23 Mar 2019 02:01:09 +0000
01/01/1970 01:00 AM Russia: Jehovah‚Äôs Witness Convicted
(Moscow) ‚Äď A Russian court on February 6, 2019 convicted Dennis Christensen, a Jehovah‚Äôs Witness adherent and Danish citizen, on extremism charges for practicing his faith, Human Rights Watch said today. The court sentenced Christensen to six years in prison. The conviction is a blatant violation of the rights to religious freedom and expression. Russian authorities should immediately move to set aside the conviction and free Christensen.
The verdict comes amid Russian law enforcement‚Äôs nationwide campaign against Jehovah‚Äôs Witnesses. Authorities throughout Russia have filed criminal extremism charges against more than 100 Jehovah‚Äôs Witnesses since Russia‚Äôs Supreme Court banned the Jehovah‚Äôs Witness organization in 2017.
‚ÄúThe verdict against Denis Christensen is a disgrace,‚ÄĚ said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs shocking that in post-Soviet Russia authorities are putting people through the ordeal of a criminal investigation and prison for nothing more than peacefully practicing their faith.‚ÄĚ
Christensen, 47, had been in pretrial custody for 20 months, since his arrest in May 2017. His lawyer told Human Rights Watch that he will appeal.
Russian¬†authorities should immediately drop the extremism charges against all Jehovah‚Äôs Witnesses, free those who have been detained, and halt the persecution of Jehovah‚Äôs Witnesses, Human Rights Watch said.
In 2016, a local court banned the Orel Jehovah‚Äôs Witness organization as an ‚Äúextremist religious organization.‚ÄĚ
Police in Orel arrested Christensen, who has had a Russian residence permit since 2000, on May 25, 2017, during a raid by riot police on a Jehovah‚Äôs Witness worship service, during which Christensen had given a sermon. He was not on the staff of the Jehovah‚Äôs Witness organization but had unlocked the building where the members had gathered.
Authorities charged Christensen with ‚Äúorganizing activities of a religious organization that has been declared extremist‚ÄĚ under article 282.2(1) of the Russian Criminal Code. The charge sheet, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, states that he was ‚Äúactively involved in organizational work aimed at continuing the unlawful activities of the [banned Orel Jehovah‚Äôs Witness organization].‚ÄĚ
Christensen‚Äôs lawyer told Human Rights Watch that the charges stem from Christensen‚Äôs actions on May 25 and from two previous incidents, in February 2017, when Christensen participated in discussions about a religious publication. They are also linked to Christensen‚Äôs role in organizing worshipers to help with the upkeep of their place of worship before the court ruling banning the organization entered into force in July 2017, and to persuading several other people to worship with Jehovah‚Äôs Witnesses.
Evidence at trial included testimony by a secret witness who, the Jehovah‚Äôs Witness organization said, claimed that Christensen was a key Jehovah‚Äôs Witness leader in Orel. During the trial, Christensen said he knew the ‚Äúsecret witness‚ÄĚ and identified him as religious studies graduate and specialist in non-Orthodox ‚Äúheresies.‚ÄĚ However, the court barred the defense from including questions about his identity, even though they might have been material to challenging his testimony. Other evidence included, during a closed court hearing, transcripts from tapped phone calls between Christensen and other worshipers, and also witnesses who described the process of upkeep of the courtyard, such as shoveling snow, at the place of worship.
An April 2017 Russian Supreme Court ruling banned all Jehovah‚Äôs Witnesses organizations throughout Russia. The ruling declared the Jehovah‚Äôs Witnesses Administrative Center an extremist organization, closed the organization on those grounds, and banned the group‚Äôs activities throughout the country. The Jehovah‚Äôs Witnesses Administrative Center was the head office for 395 Jehovah‚Äôs Witnesses branches in Russia.
Twenty-two Jehovah‚Äôs Witnesses remain in custody in Russia, awaiting trial on extremism charges, and 25 are under house arrest. Law enforcement officers have carried out hundreds of searches, raids, interrogations, and other acts of harassment and persecution. The most recent wave took place on January 20, in Sakhalin, in Russia‚Äôs Far East, where police searched several homes and interrogated Jehovah‚Äôs Witnesses.
The trial of Sergey Skrynnikov, another Jehovah‚Äôs Witness worshipper in Orel, is also currently under way. On December 27, 2018, a court in Kabardino-Balkaria convicted Arkady Akopyan, 70, on extremism charges for allegedly getting people to distribute ‚Äúextremist‚ÄĚ Jehovah‚Äôs Witness literature. The court sentenced Akopyan to 120 hours of community service.
In a December meeting of Russia‚Äôs Presidential Human Rights Council, in response to a question about the prosecution of Jehovah‚Äôs Witnesses, President Vladimir Putin said that people of different faiths should be treated equally. He also said, ‚ÄúWe need to consider the society and country we live in. But in no way does this mean that we should treat people from other religious persuasions as [from] destructive or terrorist organizations. This is utter nonsense and we need to get to the bottom of it.‚ÄĚ
Putin should explicitly call for prosecutors to withdraw extremism charges against Jehovah‚Äôs Witnesses, Human Rights Watch said.
In June, Russia‚Äôs Presidential Human Rights Council said that the crackdown echoed Soviet-era religious repression and asked the prosecutor general‚Äôs office to verify the legality of criminal prosecutions against Jehovah‚Äôs Witnesses practicing their faith.
Russia, as a member of the Council of Europe and a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, is obligated to protect the rights to freedom of religion and association. The government has previously been found to be in violation of the European Convention for actions taken through the courts to dissolve communities of Jehovah‚Äôs Witnesses (Jehovah‚Äôs Witnesses of Moscow v. Russia, application no. 302/02).
The case against Christensen and the raids against Jehovah‚Äôs Witness adherents violate the right to freedom of religion, denying them the right to worship, and cannot be justified as either a necessary or proportionate measure to protect public safety or public order, Human Rights Watch said. Christensen has filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights alleging, among other things, that his arrest constitutes unlawful interference with his right to freedom of religion.
‚ÄúProsecuting Jehovah‚Äôs Witnesses on extremism charges is a serious human rights violation,‚ÄĚ Denber said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs absurd that Russian authorities are wasting taxpayer money on things like figuring out who shoveled snow in the congregation‚Äôs courtyard.‚ÄĚ
01/01/1970 01:00 AM Midterm Elections - Millions of Votes Silenced
Millions of voices will be silenced on election day. Voter suppression still occurs all over the country. In Florida alone more than a million people are barred from the polls because of lifetime voting bans.
01/01/1970 01:00 AM Turkey Stops Registering Syrian Asylum Seekers
(Istanbul) ‚Äď Turkish authorities in Istanbul and nine provinces on or near the Syrian border have stopped registering all but a handful of recently arrived Syrian asylum seekers. The suspension is leading to unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria, and the denial of health care and education.
The European Commission has recently praised Turkey‚Äôs asylum system and plans to release the second batch of ‚ā¨3 billion under its March 2016 migration deal which includes support for refugees in Turkey. European Union institutions and governments have stayed publicly silent on the suspension and other refugee abuses committed by Turkey, suggesting their primary concern is to halt the movement of asylum seekers and migrants from Turkey to the EU.
‚ÄúWhile the EU supports Turkey to deter asylum seekers from reaching Europe, it‚Äôs turning a blind eye to Turkey‚Äôs latest steps to block and discourage people fleeing Syria,‚ÄĚ said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee program director at Human Rights Watch. ‚ÄúBut forcing Syrians who manage to get past Turkey‚Äôs border guards to live in legal limbo only risks driving them underground and onward to the EU.‚ÄĚ
The suspension of registration is Turkey‚Äôs latest effort to deny new asylum seekers protection. Over the past three years, Turkey has sealed off its border with Syria, while Turkish border guards continue to carry out mass summary pushbacks and to kill and injure Syrians as they try to cross.
Between early 2011 and the end of May 2018, Turkey had registered almost 3.6 million Syrians, making it the world‚Äôs largest refugee hosting country. That generosity does not absolve it, or its international partners, of the duty to help newly arrived asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said.¬†
In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrians in Turkey‚Äôs Hatay province about their attempts to register for a temporary protection permit in Hatay, Gaziantep, and Istanbul provinces. A permit protects Syrians from arrest and the risk of deportation. It also entitles them to get health care and education, to work, and to seek social assistance, including the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net for the most vulnerable Syrians.
Syrians said Turkish police deported them in groups of up to 20 people for not having a permit and that hospitals and schools refused to take them in without permits. Some said they returned to Syria so they, or their relatives, could get urgent medical care. Others said they decided to return to Syria because only some family members had been able to register. All said, they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and severely restricted their movement to avoid the police.
Turkey is bound by the international customary law rule of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of anyone in any manner whatsoever to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other ill-treatment, or a threat to life.¬†This includes asylum seekers, who are entitled to have their claims fairly adjudicated and not be summarily returned to places where they fear harm. Turkey may not coerce people into returning to places where they face harm by denying them legal status or access to essential services.
On October 30, 2017, the Hatay governor‚Äôs office said that to discourage smugglers from helping Syrians enter Turkey through Hatay, the province would no longer register newly arriving Syrians for temporary protection permits. In early February 2018, Turkey‚Äôs Interior Ministry said Istanbul province would also no longer register Syrians.
Eight other provinces on or near the Syrian border have also suspended registration for newly arriving Syrians since late 2017 or early 2018, according to three agencies working closely with Syrian refugees, as well as a European Commission official and a Turkish public official who previously worked on migration issues. The provinces are Adana, Gaziantep, KahramanmaraŇü, Kilis, Mardin, Mersin, Osmaniye, and ŇěanlńĪurfa.
Since late August 2015, only registered Syrians who obtain a special travel permit have been allowed to travel within Turkey. In practice, the vast majority of Syrian asylum seekers enter Turkey irregularly through the few remaining gaps in Turkey‚Äôs border wall in Hatay province. Blocked from registering there, they are unable to lawfully leave Hatay province and travel to other provinces where registration has not been closed. This forces them to live illegally in Hatay province, or to use smugglers to reach other parts of Turkey, risking arrest and deportation.
According to three confidential sources, Turkey has rejected proposals for a new system that would allow Syrians arriving in Hatay, and to a far lesser extent in other border provinces, to register in other parts of Turkey where fewer refugees live.
Refugee agencies told Human Rights Watch that Turkey‚Äôs strict controls on international and local refugee agencies prevent them from finding and helping unregistered Syrians. This lack of aid agency monitoring means that there are no statistics or estimates on the numbers of Syrians denied registration, deported, or refused urgently needed services.
In response to a June 13 letter presenting the Human Rights Watch findings, the migration authorities in Ankara denied that any of the country‚Äôs 81 provinces, including Hatay and Istanbul, had suspended registration of Syrians. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Human Rights Watch that as of mid-May, the authorities had reassured them that registration of Syrians was ongoing, including in Hatay and Istanbul. Other aid agencies that support refugees say that the authorities in the 10 provinces have only continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension, and to register urgent medical cases referred from Syria and babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey. Two refugee aid agencies also said that in some cases they have managed to convince the authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye provinces to register particularly vulnerable unregistered Syrians.
In early 2018, the authorities in Hatay opened a new registration center in Antakya. Representatives of three aid agencies and two Turkish security personnel working in Antakya said the center is exclusively for unregistered Syrians to request help to return to Syria, while registered Syrians can request help to return at other migration authority-run centers.
Turkey does not allow any independent monitoring of whether unregistered Syrians signing up for return are in fact returning voluntarily or whether they are effectively being coerced. In contrast, Turkey does allow independent monitoring of some registered Syrians‚Äô decision to return to Syria.
Turkey should protect the basic rights of all newly arriving Syrians, regardless of registration status, and register those denied registration since late 2017. The European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should support Turkey to register and protect Syrians and press Turkey to allow all agencies working for refugees to freely assist and help protect all Syrians, including all unregistered Syrians.
‚ÄúUnregistered Syrians in Turkey may be conveniently out of sight, but they shouldn‚Äôt be out of mind,‚ÄĚ Simpson said. ‚ÄúEU states and the commission should speak up and support all Syrians in Turkey, not just those who got in before Turkey started driving them underground.‚ÄĚ
For more details about Turkey‚Äôs suspension of Syrian asylum seeker registration, please see below.
Asylum Seeker Registration
The first Syrian refugees fled to Turkey in early 2011 and in the subsequent three-and-a-half years, Turkey adopted an ad hoc approach to their registration, without conferring a clear legal status with related rights. Although Turkey ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the country maintains a geographical limitation that excludes anyone not originally from a European country from full refugee recognition. That means it does not fully grant asylum to people fleeing violence or persecution in Syria and any other non-European country.
In 2013, Turkey adopted its own legal framework on the protection of asylum seekers and refugees. In October 2014, Turkey also adopted a regulation under which it grants Syrians temporary protection. As of June 28, 2018, Turkey said it had registered 3,562,523 people under the regulation. Registered Syrians are entitled to assistance. Even though the regulation says Syrians who fail to register will not be deported to Syria and will only face an ‚Äúadministrative fine,‚ÄĚ Human Rights Watch found that unregistered Syrians have been deported for not having temporary protection permits.
The Hatay governor‚Äôs office and the interior minister said registration has been suspended for newly arriving Syrians in Hatay and Istanbul. Refugee aid agencies and Syrians in Hatay‚Äôs main city, Antakya, told Human Rights Watch that police carried out mass arrests of Syrians in November and early December, just after registration was suspended.
Five sources told Human Rights Watch that since late 2017 and early 2018, migration authorities in eight other border provinces followed suit and turned away all newly arriving Syrians seeking registration.
As of June 28, seven of the provinces that suspended registration were in the top 10 provinces hosting Syrians: Adana, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul, Kilis, Mersin, and ŇěanlńĪurfa. Together they were sheltering 2,422,804 registered Syrians, or 68 percent of the total in Turkey. The other three ‚Äď KahramanmaraŇü, Mardin, and Osmaniye ‚Äď were sheltering 235,549, or just under seven percent.
Aid agencies say that, in practice, the authorities in affected provinces continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension and to register people with urgent medical needs referred from Syria. They also continued to register babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey, an estimated 306 each day. Agencies with first-hand knowledge of the suspension of registration in the 10 provinces say the registration of these Syrians may explain the claim authorities made to Human Rights Watch that eight of the provinces on or near the border registered a total of 116,059 Syrians between November 1 and June 20.
One refugee aid agency with close knowledge of registration procedures in all of Turkey‚Äôs provinces told Human Rights Watch that in a few exceptional cases, authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye province have registered children in urgent need of medical care, together with one caregiver. Another refugee assistance agency that sometimes deals with unregistered Syrians said that between late 2017 and late April 2018, it had convinced the Hatay authorities to register a few dozen newly arrived Syrians on an exceptional basis because they had specific needs, but that even then it was a ‚Äúheadache‚ÄĚ to get them through police checkpoints to registration offices. Agencies estimate that as of mid-May, the total number of such vulnerable cases of unregistered Syrians whom the authorities have registered on an exceptional basis was in the low hundreds.
Turkey‚Äôs travel permit system for registered Syrians prohibits unregistered Syrians from traveling from border provinces to register elsewhere. Seven Syrians told Human Rights Watch they paid smugglers to drive them from Antakya, in Hatay province, to Istanbul to register. But security officials at migration authority offices in Istanbul told them registration had been suspended for newly arriving Syrians.
UNHCR and some diplomats in Turkey told Human Rights Watch they have been encouraging Turkey‚Äôs Directorate General for Migration Management to adopt a referral system under which authorities in Hatay, or other border provinces where Syrians first arrive, would pre-register Syrians and then refer them to other provinces where fewer Syrians live to register. Some EU member states have proposed that if such a system were to be adopted, the EU should help support job-creation for Syrians and Turkish citizens in the provinces to which Syrians are referred. But all attempts to convince Turkey to set up a referral system have failed.
Consequences of Suspended Registration
In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrian asylum seekers in Antakya, the capital of Hatay Province, and the first city most Syrians reach after being smuggled across the closed Turkish border. They said the authorities in Antakya, the nearby town of Reyhanli, and in Gaziantep province had refused to register them during the first few months of 2018. They also described how not having a temporary protection permit ‚Äď or ‚Äúkimlik,‚ÄĚ as it is popularly called (a Turkish shorthand for identification card) ‚Äď had affected them. Human Rights Watch explained the purpose of the interviews, gave assurances of anonymity, and obtained interviewees‚Äô consent to describe their experiences.
All said they were turned away from registration offices at least twice. Only three said they managed to register after brokers bribed registration officials between US$300 and $500.
Most said officials simply said ‚Äúno more kimliks here‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúno one gets a kimlik‚ÄĚ and told them to leave. Two said they also tried to register in Gaziantep in April, but that saw a sign on the office that said ‚Äúno kimliks.‚ÄĚ
Four said that only some members of their family had been registered, leaving the rest in legal limbo and that as a result, the entire family was contemplating returning to Syria. One man said his sick wife was given permission to enter Turkey for emergency medical treatment in Antakya, and was allowed to register there, together with their newborn baby. When he and their five other children, aged 6 to 14, managed to enter Turkey and tried to register in Antakya, they were turned away.
Three Syrians said that Turkish police had previously summarily deported them to Syria for not having a temporary protection permit. One, a 22-year-old man from Aleppo governorate, said he entered Turkey in early April and was refused registration in Antakya. In early May, he said, police stopped him at about 8 a.m. near the Antakya bus station and asked for his permit. When he said he tried to register, but had been turned away, the police drove him to a local police station, recorded his personal details, and then drove him and about 20 other unregistered Syrians to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported them. He said 15 of the 20 told him they had been caught without temporary protection permits in Istanbul and the other five said they had just entered Turkey a few days earlier and were arrested after arriving at a smuggler‚Äôs house in Antakya. A few days later, he managed to return to Turkey with smugglers.
Another former deportee, a 28-year-old man from Idlib, said he and his brother entered Turkey together in January and were denied registration in Antakya. He said his brother traveled with a smuggler to Istanbul to find work there, but Turkish police arrested him on May 17 and the next day, took him to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported him.
On May 22, Human Rights Watch spoke to a 31-year-old man from Hama who said the authorities in Antakya had arrested his brother a few hours earlier, were holding him in the new center for unregistered Syrians to sign up to return to Syria, and said they were about to deport him. Human Rights Watch alerted UNHCR, which intervened and prevented the deportation.
Human Rights Watch interviewed four Syrians at the newly established center for unregistered Syrians who wish to sign up for return to Syria. They decided to go back because their relatives had been denied urgent medical care, or because some family members who arrived after registration was suspended could not register.
Two Syrians said they heard from other Syrians in Antakya about many cases in which the wives of men who had been deported told Turkish authorities they planned to go back to Syria because they and their children could not survive alone in Turkey.
All of the 29 other unregistered Syrians interviewed said they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and said they heard of many cases involving the deportation of unregistered Syrians. Eight said they reduced their movements to a minimum, often staying at home for days at a time. A 17-year-old boy who said he never left his uncle‚Äôs house in Antakya out of fear of arrest said ‚Äúthis feels like prison.‚ÄĚ
Three unregistered Syrians said they regularly use Syrian-owned driving services which use back roads to avoid police checkpoints or informal police stop-and-search patrols in Antakya.
Nine said they attempted to get medical treatment in clinics and hospitals in Antakya, but had been refused treatment because they were not registered. Four others said they did not even try to access medical care, because they heard others were turned away, and because they were afraid local hospitals would call the police to arrest them for not having a permit.
A 27-year-old woman from Idlib province seeking cancer treatment said two hospitals in Antakya refused to treat her because she did not have a permit.
A 34-year-old, eight months‚Äô pregnant woman from Aleppo, with four children all born by caesarean section, said she was too afraid to go to the local hospital to ask for a checkup and prepare for her delivery, because she had been told hospitals turn away unregistered Syrians and was afraid of being arrested and returned to Syria.
Similarly, a 31-year-old woman whose entire family was refused registration in March said her husband was extremely sick with a serious lung condition, but he would not go to a hospital out of fear of being arrested and deported. She said he never left the house and lived in constant fear of being discovered.
A nongovernmental organization working with Syrians in Hatay province said that during the first few months of 2018, they heard of dozens of cases of Syrians in Antakya seeking emergency medical care, many of them pregnant women, who were turned away by hospitals because they had been denied registration.
Six Syrians interviewed by Human Rights Watch said their children were unable to go to school, because schools would only take registered Syrians.
Nowhere to Turn for Help
The Turkish authorities consider Syrians denied registration to be in the country unlawfully. Nongovernmental groups working with refugees said the government only allows them to work with lawfully present asylum seekers and refugees.
Six organizations working with refugees in Turkey‚Äôs provinces on the Syrian border ‚Äď which asked to remain anonymous for the staff‚Äôs security ‚Äď said Turkey strictly controls and monitors their work in various ways.
Some said they must get special permission to assess registered Syrians‚Äô assistance needs or to visit registered Syrians‚Äô homes, in some cases in the presence of staff from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. The agencies said the rules are applied in an ad hoc and unpredictable way, depending on the local authorities, and they are never certain of what refugee outreach activities are allowed.
As a result, they said, they found it difficult to identify Syrians blocked from registration procedures, including the most vulnerable, for example those in urgent need of medical or other care. They also said the situation in Hatay province ‚Äď through which almost all newly arriving Syrians using smugglers enter the country due to continued gaps in the border wall ‚Äď is particularly sensitive.
Because of the restrictions imposed by the Turkish authorities, aid agencies said they cannot proactively identify unregistered Syrian refugees. At best, they can only react if they are made aware of unregistered Syrians who are seeking help, or if they come across them by chance. They said they sometimes raise the most vulnerable of such cases with the authorities in the hope that they will allow those in urgent need to register.
One agency working in the border areas said: ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs very simple, we can‚Äôt just reach out to registered or unregistered Syrians. We need approval for everything and we‚Äôd never get approval to help unregistered Syrians.‚ÄĚ Another agency worker said: ‚ÄúWe have repeatedly asked the authorities for permission to do protection outreach work, but we‚Äôve been refused every time.‚ÄĚ
Agencies said their extremely limited contact with unregistered Syrians means they can neither estimate how many unregistered Syrians now live in Hatay and other provinces, nor the extent to which the registration suspension has led to deportation and denial of service access. EU member states and other donors funding Syrian refugee assistance and protection projects in Turkey therefore don‚Äôt know the extent to which Turkey‚Äôs registration suspension is excluding Syrians from receiving help.
European Union Remains Silent
EU member states and the European Commission have remained publicly silent on Turkey‚Äôs registration suspension, as they have on Turkey‚Äôs long-standing abuses against Syrian asylum seekers at the border.
Turkey‚Äôs suspension of registration could drive many Syrians underground and onward to the EU, or coerce them into going back to Syria. The suspension, Turkey‚Äôs ongoing border abuses, and its recent abuses against Afghan asylum seekers means that any attempts to return Syrians from Greece to Turkey is also likely to be met with significant resistance by lawyers challenging return attempts on the grounds that Turkey is not a safe third country to which to return asylum seekers.
On April 17, the European Commission released its latest update on whether Turkey is meeting the EU‚Äôs criteria for becoming an EU member state. As part of its assessment of Turkey‚Äôs asylum system, the commission said: ‚ÄúThere have been reports of alleged expulsions, returns and deportations of Syrian nationals, in contradiction of the non-refoulement principle,‚ÄĚ without going into any further details or citing the sources.
In March, the European Commission promised to release the second batch of ‚ā¨3 billion under its March 2016 deal with Turkey. Under the deal, the EU maintains that Turkey is a safe country to which to return Syrian asylum seekers. In fact, Turkey does not meet the EU safe third country criteria.
Turkey should resume temporary protection registration for all newly arriving Syrians and register those denied access to registration since late 2017. If necessary, Turkey should pre-register Syrians in its provinces on the Syrian border and require Syrians to move to, and live in, other provinces with fewer Syrians. In the meantime, Turkey should instruct all medical facilities to provide emergency medical treatment to any Syrian in need, regardless of registration status. Schools should also take in Syrian children pending their registration. All Turkish public officials should refer unregistered Syrians to the nearest registration center.
Turkey should also allow all refugee agencies working with Syrians to actively work to identify unregistered Syrians, help them access registration procedures, and raise with the authorities all cases of unregistered Syrians deported to Syria or denied access to health care and education.
To help ensure protection for Syrians in Turkey, the European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should press Turkey to resume registration of all newly arriving Syrians and guarantee their access to health care and education in line with existing policies. If Turkey requires help to resume registration, they should respond generously. They should also press Turkey to allow all agencies working with refugees to freely carry out protection monitoring work throughout Turkey to identify and assist unregistered Syrians and to publicly report on any abuses, including forced return to Syria, and denial of assistance.
Finally, the European Commission should proactively seek information and publicly report on credible accounts of killings, injuries, and mass deportations by Turkish security forces at the Syrian border, including in its regular reports on Turkey‚Äôs accession process and the European Agenda on Migration.
01/01/1970 01:00 AM France: Child Migrants Left Adrift in Paris
(Paris) ‚Äď Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant children, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.¬†Hundreds of these young migrants find themselves homeless, often condemned to sleep on the streets of Paris.
‚ÄúThese children have suffered through incredibly difficult and dangerous journeys, only to be deprived of the protection and care they need,‚ÄĚ said B√©n√©dicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. ‚ÄúDeeply flawed procedures mean that children may be arbitrarily turned away at the door of the evaluation office, denied protection after a short interview, or tied up in arduous court procedures and left in limbo for months.‚ÄĚ
Human Rights Watch interviewed 49 unaccompanied children and reviewed age assessments in an additional 35 cases. Human Rights Watch also spoke with lawyers, health care providers, staff and volunteers of humanitarian agencies and informal associations, and government officials.
Youths who receive full interviews are often denied recognition as children if they lack identity documents, Human Rights Watch found. But international standards and French regulations establish that the primary method of establishing approximate age should be through interviews, recognizing that documents may be lost during arduous journeys.
Even those who have documents are frequently rejected. Child welfare authorities and judges question birth certificates, passports, and other identity documents despite the rule in French law that such documents are presumptively valid unless there are substantiated reasons to believe otherwise.
The review of case files found other invalid grounds for concluding that a person was an adult. Work in the home country or on the journey to Europe was frequently cited, even though millions of children around the world work, including in hazardous or harmful forms of labor. Child protection authorities also often cited the youth‚Äôs decision to travel without parents, though many thousands of children travel on their own to Europe each year.
In other cases, examiners told youths from French-speaking countries that they spoke French too well. Imrane O., from C√īte d‚ÄôIvoire, who gave his age as 15, told Human Rights Watch that his examiner ‚Äúsaid that I was answering her questions too well. Because I could answer her questions, I couldn‚Äôt be a minor. How is that? I did eight years of schooling, in French. Of course I could answer her questions.‚ÄĚ
In the cases studied, child protection authorities also frequently relied on subjective factors such as ‚Äúbearing‚ÄĚ or comportment. Some youths received adverse age assessments based in part on expressing irritation with repeated questioning or presenting their case forcefully, behaviors that can be exhibited at any age. Many more were simply told they had the bearing of an adult, without further explanation.
When children seek review of adverse decisions, some judges regularly order bone tests to determine their age. Medical bodies in France and elsewhere have repeatedly found that bone and other medical examinations are not a reliable means of determining age, particularly for older adolescents, and have called for ending their use.
The cumulative effect of arbitrary decision-making is that age assessments in Paris are ‚Äúlike a lottery: sometimes you win, but most of the time you lose, even if you‚Äôre underage,‚ÄĚ an aid worker with the nongovernmental organization Utopia 56 told Human Rights Watch.
The number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in Paris, as well as in France overall, has increased in recent years. France‚Äôs child welfare system took just under 15,000 unaccompanied migrant children into care in 2017. Nearly half of unaccompanied children who seek protection from the child welfare system in France do so in Paris. In February 2018, when Human Rights Watch began this research, an estimated 400 unaccompanied children were ‚Äúsleeping rough‚ÄĚ (outside) in the French capital, , according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations. Current estimates are lower.
Ordinary citizens, on their own and in groups, have stepped in to address some of these children‚Äôs needs, providing food and other services, organizing football clubs, improvisational theatre, and other activities, and in some cases opening their homes to give children a place to stay for a night or two, or even longer.
But these laudable efforts, along with services provided by nongovernmental groups such as M√©d√©cins sans Fronti√®res and Utopia 56, depend on volunteers and cannot meet the need. In contrast, France has both the means and the obligation to provide appropriate care and protection to all children within French territory, regardless of migration status.
French national and departmental authorities should ensure that age assessments are used only when authorities have well-founded doubts about an individual‚Äôs claim to be under 18, Human Rights Watch said. In such cases, they should take appropriate steps to determine age and establish eligibility for services, bearing in mind that all age assessments will be estimates. These steps should include interviews by professionals with the expertise to work with children, as international standards recommend.
France also should end the use of bone tests and similar discredited medical examinations.
‚ÄúInstead of giving youths the benefit of the doubt, as they should, child protection services seem to be doing everything they can to exclude youths from the child care system,‚ÄĚ Jeannerod said. ‚ÄúThe French authorities should immediately put an end to arbitrary age decisions and provide sufficient resources to take care of and protect unaccompanied migrant children.‚ÄĚ
01/01/1970 01:00 AM UN: US Retreat from Rights Body Self-Defeating
(Geneva) ‚Äď The United States government‚Äôs decision to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council will sideline the country from key global initiatives to protect human rights.
‚ÄúThe US has been threatening to walk away from the Human Rights Council ever since President Trump came into office, so this decision comes as no surprise,‚ÄĚ said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. ‚ÄúTrump has decided that ‚ÄėAmerica First‚Äô means ignoring the suffering of civilians in Syria and ethnic minorities in Myanmar at the United Nations.‚ÄĚ
The Human Rights Council was created by the UN General Assembly in 2006 as the UN‚Äôs top human rights body. While it has its shortcomings ‚Äď including the participation of persistent rights violators such as China, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela ‚Äď the council plays a vital role in addressing serious rights abuses around the world. It has initiated investigations into rights violations in Syria, Yemen, Burundi, Myanmar, and South Sudan, and addresses key topics such as migration, counterterrorism and protecting women, LGBT people, people with disabilities, and others from violence and discrimination.
The US has long criticized the Human Rights Council for its standing agenda item 7 on rights violations by all parties in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This item was included when the council‚Äôs agenda was drawn up at the conclusion of its initial year, in 2007, at a time when the US had decided not to participate in the council. The US has actively campaigned for removing agenda item 7, and has opposed resolutions dealing with the Occupied Palestinian Territories, even when not presented under this agenda item, such as a recent Special Session resolution creating an inquiry into violence in Gaza.
Negotiations about potential reform or consolidation of the council‚Äôs agenda and work program are ongoing in Geneva. The United Kingdom, which largely agrees with the US position on item 7, has announced that it will vote against all resolutions brought under that agenda item unless reforms are carried out, but it has not threatened to leave the council.
By forfeiting its membership in the council with almost 18 months remaining on its term, the US will be removing itself from key issues that could affect allied governments. No country has ever withdrawn from the council after running for election to secure a seat. It is unclear which country would take the open seat left by the US. The UN resolution creating the council provides that any successor would be another country from the group that includes Western Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel.
While the US government‚Äôs engagement with the council has been uneven, the US has helped shape some of the body‚Äôs decisions with the greatest impact, including to establish a commission of inquiry into grave human rights violations in North Korea. The US withdrawal risks emboldening countries like China, and other actors that regularly seek to undermine UN human rights mechanisms.
Since rejoining the Human Rights Council in 2010, the US has played a leading role on initiatives related to Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. Following its decision to withdraw, the US may continue to advance these priorities as a non-member, or may choose to disengage entirely. But quitting the council will not allow the US to shield itself from the scrutiny of the international community, Human Rights Watch said. The UN will continue to consider a broad range of rights issues and initiatives, and conduct its Universal Periodic Review, which applies to all UN member countries.
‚ÄúThe Trump administration‚Äôs withdrawal from the Human Rights Council is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy in which the US defends Israeli abuses from criticism above all else,‚ÄĚ Roth said. ‚ÄúBy walking away, the US is turning its back not just on the UN, but on victims of human rights abuses around the world, including in Syria, Yemen, North Korea and Myanmar. Now other governments will have to redouble their efforts to ensure that the council addresses the world‚Äôs most serious human rights problems.‚ÄĚ
01/01/1970 01:00 AM Video: Iraqi Officials Hide Potential War Crime Evidence
An incident on March 29, 2018, in which government workers removed about 80 bodies from a damaged house, raised suspicions of a cover-up of killings of possible Islamic State (also known as ISIS) suspects. Human Rights Watch observed the episode. Days later, the house had been burned.¬†
Iraqi authorities at the site said they were the remains of ISIS suspects. Heath Ministry and Interior Intelligence Ministry officials at the site said they were not permitted to share information about where the bodies were taken. There has been no indication that the deaths are being investigated.¬†
01/01/1970 01:00 AM Turkey: Mass Deportations of Syrians
(Brussels) ‚Äď Turkish security forces have routinely intercepted hundreds, and at times thousands, of asylum seekers at the Turkey-Syria border since at least December 2017 and summarily deported them to the war-ravaged Idlib governorate in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today. Turkish border guards have shot at asylum seekers trying to enter Turkey using smuggling routes, killing and wounding them, and have deported to Idlib newly arrived Syrians in the Turkish town of Antakya, 30 kilometers from the Syrian border.
The Russian-Syrian military alliance‚Äôs December offensive against anti-government forces in Idlib has displaced almost 400,000 civilians, according to the UN. They have joined more than 1.3 million others trapped inside Idlib in insecure, overcrowded camps, and in makeshift camps in fields near the closed Turkish border where they are under constant threat of attack and lack food, clean water, shelter, health care, and aid. At a March 26, 2018 summit meeting in Bulgaria, the European Union should press Turkey to allow Syrian civilians fleeing fighting to seek protection inside Turkey and pledge increased aid to Syrian refugees in Turkey and the region.
‚ÄúAs border guards try to seal the last remaining gaps in Turkey‚Äôs border, hundreds of thousands of Syrians are trapped in fields to face the bombs on the Syrian side,‚ÄĚ said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee rights program director at Human Rights Watch. ‚ÄúThe EU should press Turkey to open its border to those in need, and provide meaningful support, not silently stand by as Turkey ignores refugee law and pushes thousands back to face the carnage.‚ÄĚ
In response to these allegations, the Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) in Turkey‚Äôs Ministry of Interior provided Human Rights Watch with a lengthy statement, which said, in part, that ‚Äúwhile maintaining the security of borders against terrorist organizations, Turkey continues to accept Syrians in need coming to the borders, and never opens fire on or uses violence against them.‚ÄĚ
The DGGM said that it registered 510,448 Syrians coming through the designated border gates in 2017, and 91,866 so far in 2018, and provided them with temporary protection. As seen from the numbers, the DGMM statement said, ‚Äúallegations suggesting that Syrians are not registered are not true.‚ÄĚ It does not appear that Turkish authorities conducted an investigation into Human Rights Watch‚Äôs specific findings.
In mid-February, Human Rights Watch spoke by phone with 21 Syrians about their repeated failed attempts to cross into Turkey with smugglers. Eighteen of them said that intensified Russia-Syrian airstrikes in Deir al-Zour and in Idlib had repeatedly displaced them until they finally decided they had no option but to risk their lives and flee to Turkey.
Those interviewed described 137 incidents, almost all between mid-December and early March, in which Turkish border guards intercepted them just after they had crossed the border with smugglers. Human Rights Watch spoke with another 35 Syrians stuck in Idlib who had not tried to escape for fear of being shot by border guards.
Nine people also described 10 incidents between September and early March in which Turkish border guards shot at them or others ahead of them as they tried to cross, killing 14 people, including 5 children, and injuring 18.
Civilians in Idlib have also been caught in the crossfire between Kurdish and Turkish forces during the offensive by Turkey in the Kurdish-held town of Afrin in Syria, north of Idlib, which began on January 20.
In November, the United Nations refugee agency said in its latest country guidance on Syria that ‚Äúall parts of Syria are reported to have been affected, directly or indirectly, by one or multiple conflicts‚ÄĚ and therefore maintained its long-standing call on all countries ‚Äúnot to forcibly return Syrians.‚ÄĚ
Syrians who tried to enter Turkey said they were intercepted after they crossed the Orontes River or near the internally displaced persons camp in al-Dureyya. They said Turkish border guards deported them along with hundreds, and at times thousands, of other Syrians they had intercepted. They said the guards forced them to return to Syrian territory at an informal crossing point at Hatya or across a small dam on the Orontes River known as the Friendship Bridge that aid agencies have used.
Human Rights Watch obtained satellite images of both crossing points and of four security posts with large tents set up on basketball courts in the immediate border area where asylum seekers said they were held before being sent back to Syria.¬†
The findings follow a February 3 Human Rights Watch report on Turkey‚Äôs border killings and summary pushbacks of asylum seekers between May and December 2017 and similar findings in November 2015 and May 2016.
In response to the February 3 report, a senior Turkish official repeated his government‚Äôs long-standing response to such reports, pointing out that Turkey has taken in millions of Syrian refugees. Human Rights Watch described its latest findings in a letter on March 15 to Turkey‚Äôs interior minister, requesting comment by March 21.
Turkey is hosting over 3.5 million Syrian refugees, according to the UN refugee agency. Turkey deserves credit and support for its generosity and is entitled to secure its border with Syria.
However, Turkey is also obliged to respect the principle of nonrefoulement, which prohibits countries from returning anyone to a place where they face a real risk of persecution, torture, or inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. This includes a prohibition on rejecting asylum seekers at borders that would expose them to such threats. Turkey is also obliged to respect international norms on the use of lethal force as well as the rights to life and bodily integrity.
Turkey insists that it respects the principle of nonrefoulement. ‚ÄúSyrians are accepted and taken under protection in Turkey and Syrians who have entered into Turkey somehow and demand protection are definitely not sent back and the reception and registration procedures are carried out,‚ÄĚ the DGMM‚Äôs statement in response to this report said. ‚ÄúSyrians coming to Turkey are under no circumstances forced to go back to their own country; their registration is continuing and these foreigners can benefit from many rights and services in Turkey.‚ÄĚ
As of December, Turkey had completed almost 800 kilometers of a planned 911-kilometer border barrier with Syria, which consists of a rocket-resistant concrete wall and steel fence. The satellite imagery Human Rights Watch obtained of the area where Syrians say they crossed with smugglers shows areas without a wall.
Turkey‚Äôs continued refusal since at least mid-2015 to allow Syrian asylum seekers to cross the border legally has been reinforced by a controversial EU-Turkey March 2016 migration agreement to curb refugee and migration flows to the European Union. The EU should instead be working with Turkey to keep its borders open to refugees, providing financial support for Turkey‚Äôs refugee efforts, and sharing responsibility by stepping up resettlement of refugees from Turkey, Human Rights Watch said.
‚ÄúThe EU should stop ignoring Turkey‚Äôs mass refugee deportations,‚ÄĚ Simpson said. ‚ÄúThe meeting in Bulgaria is a clear opportunity for the EU governments and institutions to change course and ramp up efforts to help Turkey protect Syrian refugees including through increased refugee resettlement.‚ÄĚ
For more details about Turkey‚Äôs mass border pushbacks and the situation displaced Syrians face in Syria‚Äôs Idlib governorate, please see below.
Turkey‚Äôs land borders are legally protected by army border units of the Turkish Armed Forces. Gendarmerie also on duty at the borders operate under the authority of the land forces command. There are also gendarmerie stations near the borders charged with regular rural policing activities. This report refers to border guards without specifying if they are soldiers or gendarmes since many of those interviewed did not provide or do not have such specific information.
Regular Mass Pushbacks at the Turkish Border
Between February 14 and 20, Human Rights Watch interviewed the 21 Syrian asylum seekers who had tried multiple times to cross the border. Human Rights Watch interviewed them by cell phone and explained the purpose of the interviews and gave assurances of anonymity. We also received interviewees‚Äô consent to describe their experiences.
They described 137 incidents ‚Äď 107 of them between January 1 and March 6 ‚Äď in which Turkish border guards intercepted them at the border near the Syrian town of Darkush and held them at nearby security posts and then deported them back to Syria with hundreds, and at times thousands, of others.
A man from Deir al-Zour governorate who fled Syrian government attacks on his village in September 2017 said border guards intercepted him nine times in January and the first half of February in border areas close to the al-Dureyya displaced people‚Äôs camp in Syria.
Describing three incidents in February, he said:
Each time they insulted the men, calling them ‚ÄúSyrian traitors.‚ÄĚ They forced some of them to collect firewood. Then they took all of us in military trucks to a basketball court at a security post near the Hatya border gate. There was also a big tent there. They put us all in the tent and kept us overnight. They didn‚Äôt give us any food or water or let us go to a proper toilet. There were so many in the tent, that we were spilling out into the open of the basketball court. We were hundreds of people. The next morning, they took us all back to the border in buses.
Three Syrians said they were deported with thousands of others. A man from al-Hamediyah who said Turkish border guards intercepted him 11 times between September and January said that he was usually deported with about 500 other people. However, he said that on one occasion, in January, the border guards gave the people they had intercepted trying to cross from Syria numbers and his was 3,890. He said he was one of the last to be put on buses and taken to the border.
Many people referred to two deportation points that they said were between 10 and 30 minutes‚Äô drive from the security posts where border guards had held them: one was an informal border crossing at Hatya, and the other was a small dam on the Orontes River called ‚ÄúFriendship Bridge.‚ÄĚ Human Rights Watch obtained satellite imagery of both crossing points and of four security posts in the immediate border area where asylum seekers said they crossed into Turkey.
A woman from Hama governorate who repeatedly tried to cross the border said she was deported six times during the first two weeks of February with groups she estimated to be between 50 and 600 other Syrians:
The second time, on around February 4, the border guards took us to a military post and put us in a big tent with 200 other people they had already caught. Four hours later, at about 8 a.m., they put us in large buses and drove us to the Friendship Bridge. There they told us to get out and walk across the river back into Syria.
The satellite imagery Human Rights Watch obtained confirms there are gaps in the wall the full length of the Orontes River, west of the Syrian town of Salkeen, and at various points between the southern tip of where the river meets the border and the Hatya border crossing.
Deportations from Antakya
Three Syrians said Turkish police had deported them or relatives from the town of Antakya, about 20 kilometers west of the Syrian border.
A man from Deir al-Zour governorate said:
I crossed the border at night with my wife and two daughters and about 20 other people in late December 2017 near the al-Dureyya [displacement] camp. The border guards didn‚Äôt find us. The smugglers took us to their house in Antakya, about two hours‚Äô drive away. There were 20 other Syrians already there and they told us they had also crossed from Syria that night. Not long after that, Turkish police arrived at the house. They took all of us to a police station and held us there until the next morning. They took our fingerprints and photos. Then they took all of us in police vans to the border at Bab al-Hawa and sent us back to Syria.
A man from Hama governorate described what happened to his wife:
The Turks sent my wife back from Antakya twice. She told me everything that happened. The first time was a week ago [about February 10]. The smugglers drove her and about 10 other people from the border near the Orontes River up to Reyhanli and from there they drove to Antakya. They reached the edge of Antakya at about 6 a.m. Turkish police shot at the car‚Äôs wheels to force it to stop. They beat the driver and immediately put my wife and the others in a police van and drove them to the border at Bab al-Hawa.
My wife crossed again four days later. The smugglers took her and about 10 others to a small house in a Turkish village near the border and then drove to a house in Antakya where there were already about 50 other Syrians who said they had arrived that night. Suddenly Turkish police arrived, at about 7 a.m. They wrote down their names and took photos. They put them in a big truck and took them to the Bab al-Hawa crossing. They held them there for the whole day and then sent them back to Syria.
Shootings by Border Guards
Nine Syrians interviewed described a total of 10 shooting incidents by Turkish border guards between September and March in which they said 14 people were killed and 18 injured.
In mid-February, a man from Deir al-Zour governorate said that in the previous five weeks he had tried four times to reach Turkey with his wife and five children. The first three times, he said, Turkish border guards deported them. The fourth time they turned back because Turkish border guards shot at their group as they approached the border:
A few hundred meters from the border near the al-Dureyya [displacement] camp the Turks suddenly started shooting at our group. They killed an 8-year-old girl and injured two men, one in a leg and the other in the stomach. I helped the man shot in the stomach turn back with the rest of us while the others carried the girl and helped the other man. Later the smugglers told us that a 13-year-old girl in another group trying to cross at the next time had also been killed during the shooting.¬†¬†¬†
A man evacuated with his wife and baby from Aleppo in late 2016 said he unsuccessfully attempted to cross with them to Turkey three times near the al-Dureyya camp in September 2017 and January 2018 and was deported with hundreds of others the first two times. During the third attempt, in January, he said:
The border guards shot at us and injured my wife in her stomach and leg. She was pregnant and the baby died. They also injured two men and a 5-year-old boy, who was shot in the leg. We took my wife to a hospital in Syria near the border. Her heart stopped twice, but she lived. They couldn‚Äôt operate on her, so they sent her to Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa gate for surgery. They amputated her leg and removed her womb. They didn‚Äôt let me cross with her but a few days later a smuggler helped me and my daughter cross to Turkey.
Human Rights Watch also spoke with a doctor in a Syrian hospital near the Turkish border west of the town of Idlib who said that between August 1 and February 16, the hospital had received 66 people with gunshot-related injuries who said they had been shot while trying to cross the Turkish border.
Conflict and Humanitarian Crisis in Idlib governorate
According to the UN, about 2.65 million people are currently in Idlib governorate, over 1.75 million of whom have been displaced from elsewhere in Idlib or other parts of Syria, including almost 400,000 displaced since December. Civilians in Idlib have faced years of conflict. In September, Russian and Syrian forces began a fresh offensive in Idlib, three days after Russia, Iran, and Turkey had agreed to a ceasefire and ‚Äúde-escalation‚ÄĚ zone in the province and parts of Hama and western Aleppo. Human Rights Watch documented that attacks in September struck markets and populated residential areas and caused thousands of people to flee to displacement sites near the Turkish border.
Hostilities in Idlib halted on October 8 after Turkey deployed monitors there, but restarted in late December. In January, the Russian-Syrian military alliance carried out airstrikes to support Syrian ground troops. Some attacks involved prohibited weapons and targeted hospitals.
On January 21, Turkey started a military offensive in Kurdish-held Afrin, also putting displaced civilians at risk. Turkish and Kurdish forces have shelled each other on either side of Syria‚Äôs Atma displacement camp, on the Turkish border, which shelters 60,000 people.
Witnesses said that on February 6, during the fighting, shells hit the camp, killing an 8-year-old girl and injuring seven other civilians.
Human Rights Watch interviewed seven displaced Syrians about the incident. They all said it left their children terrified of the shelling and unable to sleep.
A father of seven children from Hama who lived close to where the shell landed on February 6 said:
I was there when it happened and rushed to help. I heard a young girl had been killed, but I only saw two who were injured. One had lost an arm and a leg and the other was blinded. I was so scared the same might happen to my children, we fled the camp and went to live in a field near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. But we couldn‚Äôt stay there all alone, without help, so we had to come back to the camp. We are all scared now, all the time.
A father of four children said the incident had so shaken his family, he had returned to his still conflict-riven home town of Kafr Zita in Hama governorate because all other displacement camps in Idlib were full. As his house had been destroyed, he said, he was living in a field on the edge of the town and struggling to survive: ‚ÄúThere is still shelling here but if we die, it‚Äôs better to die at home.‚ÄĚ
Human Rights Watch also spoke with five Syrians who had been repeatedly displaced in recent months within Idlib to escape the shifting front line and who, as of mid-February, were living as close as possible to the Turkish border in the hope of escaping the fighting.
The UN says that since December, the violence has displaced at least 385,000 people who have joined 2.65 million other civilians, including 1.35 million civilians displaced in the past few years.
In mid-February, Human Rights Watch interviewed two aid officials working in Idlib governorate. One summarized the dire humanitarian situation:
There is no more room anywhere for people displaced in the past few months. Displacement camps are completely full and we [humanitarians] do not have the resources to properly address basic needs of water, food, heating, health care, and education. Rent has skyrocketed so people end up living in the tens of thousands on the edge of towns and villages in fields in makeshift camps. There is simply no way the aid agencies can help all these people. At best they can give very limited help once in a while to some of them, and it is not done in an organized way. There is suffering everywhere, in every camp and in every village.
The 56 displaced Syrians in Idlib that Human Rights Watch interviewed, including 42 displaced by the recent violence, all described the extremely difficult conditions they had faced in Idlib in previous months. The newly displaced said they had heard that displacement camps were completely full and that they could not afford to pay the extremely high rents in the towns and villages in the area. They ended up living in waterlogged fields across Idlib governorate, often with other families in makeshift tents made from sacks and other material sewed together, because they could not afford to buy proper tents.
They said they struggled to find food and had to pay high fees for water, delivered by trucks. They either had seen no one from an aid agency, or those who had, said they were unable to help or had promised help but hadn‚Äôt returned.
Turkish authorities have allowed Turkish and international aid groups based in Turkey to cross into Syria and join Syrian aid groups to distribute tents and other assistance to Syrians in camps in border areas. Human Rights Watch said that allowing much-needed cross-border aid is important, but does not absolve Turkey of its obligation to allow Syrian civilians fleeing fighting to seek protection in Turkey.
Human Rights Watch has documented that, since at least mid-August 2015, Turkish border guards enforcing the country‚Äôs March 2015 border closure have deported Syrians trying to reach Turkey. In April and May 2016, Human Rights Watch documented Turkish border guards shooting and beating Syrian asylum seekers trying to cross to Turkey, resulting in deaths and serious injuries, and sending those who managed to cross back to Syria. In February 2018, Human Rights Watch reported on further killings, injuries and pushbacks that happened in the second half of 2017.
On May 20, 2016, Human Rights Watch called on UN member states and UN agencies attending the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul to press the Turkish authorities to reopen Turkey‚Äôs border to Syrian asylum seekers. But neither the European Commission nor any European Union member state ‚Äď or any other country ‚Äď has publicly pressed Turkey to do so, while UN agencies have also remained publicly silent.
The world‚Äôs ‚Äď and in particular the EU‚Äôs ‚Äď silence over Turkey‚Äôs breach of the cornerstone of international refugee law condones Turkey‚Äôs border abuses.
The EU‚Äôs failure to take in more Syrian asylum seekers and refugees also contributes to the pressure on Turkey. The EU should swiftly fulfill its own commitments to relocate Syrian and other asylum seekers from Greece and, together with other countries, it should also expand safe and legal channels for people to reach safety from Turkey, including through increased refugee resettlement, humanitarian admissions, humanitarian and other visas, and facilitated family reunification.
01/01/1970 01:00 AM Latest Updates of Venezuela‚Äôs Crisis
We will no longer be updating this blog as frequently. For recent developments on Venezuela‚Äôs crisis, please visit our Venezuela webpage at: https://www.hrw.org/americas/venezuela¬†
01/01/1970 01:00 AM Macron Preserves China Contracts, Ignoring the Persecuted
President Emmanuel Macron addressed many topics with ardor and conviction during his first trip to China since his election, ranging from the balance of trade, with negotiations on cheese and French beef, to the climate, nuclear power, and technology. Horse and baby panda were also honored. But human rights did not receive such attention from the French president.¬†
Yet President Macron was visiting a country with a particularly long list of human rights abuses. Since 2013, Xi Jinping has dampened hopes of improvements in human rights, expressing contempt for them and rejecting any democratic impulse. The country is still among those that carry out the most executions. The government stifles any form of dissent, violates religious freedom, persecutes ethnic minorities, exercises massive control over the Internet and independent groups, and arbitrarily suppresses and detains rights defenders and government opponents.
The death last July from cancer of Liu Xiaobo, winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, surrounded by his jailers was undoubtedly one of the most symbolic images of the ruthless repression under Xi Jinping. The enforced disappearance of his widow, Liu Xia, confirms the brutality of the Chinese authorities. ¬†China extends its abusive policies beyond its borders, trying to obstruct United Nations human rights protections and even to manipulate Interpol.
This seems to have in no way disturbed the French President, who even offered the autocrat Xi ¬†a horse of the Republican Guard as a sign of friendship. During the news conference with his counterpart ‚Äď where journalists did not have the opportunity to ask questions, Macron alluded ¬†to fundamental rights and freedoms, but mainly to indicate that diplomacy between France and China would take place while respecting the ‚Äúdifferences‚ÄĚ between the two countries on this matter. At the end of the visit, Macron said that he had discussed these matters privately with Xi, without specifying the nature of their exchanges.
President Macron‚Äôs extreme shyness over China‚Äôs multiple human rights violations contradicts his statement, at the end of last summer, to an audience of French ambassadors that ‚Äúdiplomatic and economic exchanges with (‚Ä¶) China cannot justify that we cover up with a modest veil the question of human rights because then it is ourselves that we betray.‚ÄĚ His behavior in China also contrasts with his vibrant statements on the importance for France to promote freedom and justice internationally. He promoted these values vigorously with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during his visit to France last week.
Macron positions himself as a firm president and wants France to appear strong on the international scene. To slip principles¬†under the heavy carpet of the country's strategic and economic interests appears, on the contrary, to be sign of inconsistency and weakness in the light of his own commitments. It sends the autocrats the message that France can accommodate massive violations for lucrative contracts, reinforcing their power. And to the persecuted like Liu Xia and countless others, that they cannot count on France to defend them.
01/01/1970 01:00 AM Trapped: Asylum Seekers in Lesbos, Greece
More than 13,500 asylum seekers remain trapped on the Greek islands in deplorable conditions as winter begins on December 21, 2017. Greece, with support from its European Union partners, should urgently transfer thousands of asylum seekers to the Greek mainland and provide them with adequate accommodation and access to fair and efficient asylum procedures.