URGENT ACTION – Around 150 Syrian refugees are being held in a camp in Osmaniye province, close to the Syrian border. They are at risk of being returned to Syria by the Turkish authorities. A smaller group of Iraqi refugees were released from the camp on condition that they return to Iraq within a month. The refugees were travelling to Greece in a boat that sunk on 15 September leaving at least 22 dead, including children.
The 150 Syrian refugees formed part of a group of over 250 refugees from Syria and Iraq who were on a boat crossing from Bodrum, in western Turkey, to the Greek island of Kos on 15 September. The refugees reported that the Turkish coastguard fired several shots at their boat, which then sank. The Turkish coastguard confirms 249 refugees were rescued and 22 bodies recovered, including children. Most of the refugees where first held in or around Bodrum, then transferred to a camp in Düziçi, Osmaniye province, on 17 September. They were transferred against their will and were not told where they were going. There could be up to 700 refugees in the Düziçi camp.
According to the Syrian refugees held in the camp, the authorities told them that they will be kept in the camp unless they agree to be returned to Syria, using the border crossings of Bab al-Hawa or Bab al-Salam. The crossings are under control of armed groups responsible for human rights abuses. Refugees in the camp also reported that most of the Iraqi refugees have been released, on condition that they return to Iraq within a month. The refugees reported having been told to sign documents in Turkish, which they could not understand. Amnesty International spoke to one Iraqi refugee who has returned to Iraq and is currently in hiding, fearing for his life.
Due to the ongoing conflicts in both Syria and Iraq, neither group of refugees should be forcibly returned to their countries where they would be at real risk of serious human rights violations or abuses. This is known as the principle of non-refoulement. The principle of non-refoulement applies to situations of generalized violence due to armed conflict (such as is happening in Iraq and Syria) and is binding on all states. Furthermore forcing refugees to return to their country of origin, with the threat of indefinite detention, would also amount to refoulement.
Holding refugees in a camp they cannot leave amounts to detention. Any measure that restricts the right to liberty of refugees and asylum-seekers must only be in exceptional circumstances and based on individual assessment. In this case, the detention appears to be arbitrary and thus prohibited under international human rights law.
Please write immediately in Turkish or your own language:
– Calling on the Minister of Interior to immediately halt returns of refugees to Syria or Iraq;
– Urging the Minister of Interior to release the remaining refugees, grant the Syrian refugees temporary protection status and enable refugees from other countries to lodge asylum claims in line with Turkey’s Law on Foreigners and International Protection;
– Calling on the Minister of Justice to ensure that a prompt, independent and impartial investigation is carried out into the circumstances of the capture of the refugees’ boat on 15 September by the Turkish coastguard during which at least 22 refugees died after the boat sank.
More info on the petition here:
Right to seek asylum
The right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution is a fundamental human right. It is enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and protected by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention), which Turkey has ratified. Amnesty International considers Iraq and Syria as countries where individuals would face a real risk of serious human rights violations or abuses upon return.
Ban on refoulement
The cornerstone of the international refugee protection system is the principle of non-refoulement. This principle prohibits the transfer of anyone in any manner whatsoever to a place where they would be at real risk of serious human rights violations – as is the case for individuals from Syria. It has been codified in the Refugee Convention and numerous international human rights instruments binding on Turkey. A breach of this principle can occur in a variety of ways, including directly through forcible returns to the country of origin, or indirectly through denying access to territory or to a fair and satisfactory asylum procedure. It can also occur indirectly when pressure is exerted on refugees to return to a place where their lives or freedoms are at risk – this is known as constructive refoulement, and is prohibited under international law binding on Turkey.
Ban on arbitrary detention
Arbitrary detention is prohibited under international law. It has been codified in Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Turkey has ratified. The notion of “arbitrariness” should not be understood narrowly, but must be interpreted broadly to include elements of inappropriateness, injustice, lack of predictability, and due process of law, as well as elements of reasonableness, necessity, and proportionality. Furthermore, the ancient principle of habeas corpus, as set out for instance in ICCPR Art 9(4), entitles anyone who is deprived of liberty to take proceedings before a court, in order that the court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of the detention and order release if the detention is not lawful.