Tag Archives: Human Rights Watch

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A Human Rights Watch video, which contains graphic content, about Syrian people being shot by Turkish border police

You may recall how last month, The Times reported how eight Syrians were shot at the Syrian-Turkey border by Turkish border police.

Further to this…

In a new report, Human Rights Watch writes:

During March and April 2016, Turkish border guards used violence against Syrian asylum seekers and smugglers, killing five people, including a child, and seriously injuring 14 others, according to victims, witnesses, and Syrian locals interviewed by Human Rights Watch. Turkey’s Foreign Affairs Ministry maintains the country has an “open-door policy” for Syrian refugees, despite building a new border wall.

“While senior Turkish officials claim they are welcoming Syrian refugees with open borders and open arms, their border guards are killing and beating them,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Firing at traumatized men, women, and children fleeing fighting and indiscriminate warfare is truly appalling.”

…The hostilities continue to threaten Syrians already displaced by fighting. According to witnesses, at around 5 p.m. on May 5, three airstrikes hit the Kamuna camp sheltering 4,500 displaced Syrians near Sarmada in northern Idlib province, five kilometers from Turkey’s increasingly impenetrable border.

An independent humanitarian source in Turkey told Human Rights Watch that medics recovered 20 bodies, including two children, and that at least 37 people were injured, including 10 who lost one or more limbs and who were transferred to Turkey for medical care.

…Human Rights Watch interviewed victims and witnesses involved in seven incidents between the first week of March and April 17, in which Turkish border guards shot dead three asylum seekers (one man, one woman, and a 15-year-old boy) and one smuggler; beat to death one smuggler; shot and injured eight asylum seekers, including three children, aged 3, 5, and 9; and severely assaulted six asylum seekers.

Syrians living near the border also described the aftermaths of the shootings and beatings, including Turkish border guards firing at them as they tried to recover bodies at the border wall. One witness filmed a number of the dead and surviving victims and shared the videos with Human Rights Watch.

As of early April, Turkey had completed a third of its 911-kilometer rocket-resistant concrete wall along its border with Syria and was working to fortify the rest of its border.

Turkey is entitled to secure its border with Syria, but is obliged to respect the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits rejecting asylum seekers at borders when that would expose them to the threat of persecution, torture, and threats to life and freedom.

Turkey is also obliged to respect international norms on use of lethal force as well as the rights to life and bodily integrity, including the absolute prohibition on subjecting anyone to inhuman and degrading treatment.

…The violence against Syrian refugees, and Turkey’s refusal to allow them to cross the border, comes as the European Union has shut its own borders to asylum seekers.

In March, the EU concluded a controversial migration deal with Ankara to curb refugee and migration flows to Europe, committing €6 billion in aid to assist Syrians in Turkey, reinvigorating Turkey’s EU membership negotiations, and offering the prospect of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.

The deal provides for Europe to return migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, including Syrians, who reach Greece by boat, on the grounds that Turkey is a safe country for them.

The deal also commits the EU to work with Turkey to create areas inside Syria that will be “more safe.”

The EU shouldn’t just stand by and watch as Turkey uses live ammunition and rifle butts to stem the refugee flow,” said Simpson. “EU officials should recognize that their red light for refugees to enter the EU gives Turkey a green light to close its border, exacting a heavy price on war-ravaged asylum seekers with nowhere else to go.”

Meanwhile, in The Guardian, Patrick Kingsley reports:

Hundreds of non-Syrian asylum seekers deported under the EU-Turkey migration deal were not allowed to claim asylum in either Greece or Turkey, a group of European politicians has claimed.

After interviewing 40 of the deportees, the three MEPs have concluded that, despite EU promises, the deal with Turkey is not being enacted according to international law.

“All refugees interviewed told us they were not given the opportunity to ask for asylum, neither in Greece nor in Turkey,” Cornelia Ernst, Marina Albiol and Josu Juaristi said in a report released to journalists after they visited two detention centres in northern Turkey. “All said they did not know what will happen to them, and had received no information since they had arrived in Turkey.”

The trio are the first independent observers to corroborate the UN refugee agency’s earlier claims that some of the refugees were sent back to Turkey by mistake.

Turkey: Border Guards Kill and Injure Asylum Seekers (Human Rights Watch)

Non-Syrians denied asylum claims under EU-Turkey deal – MEPs (Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian)

Previously: One Love

Human Rights Watch released a report today in relation to the deportations that have taken place from Greece to Turkey, as part of the EU/Turkey deal – of which Ireland has contributed €22million.

The report paid particular attention to Chios island where the UN claimed 13 people – 11 people from Afghanistan, and two people from the Democratic Republic of Congo – were wrongly deported on April 4.

The report states:

In visits to the VIAL detention center on Chios on April 7 and 8, Human Rights Watch spoke with 12 friends and one relative of 19 Afghans who were deported from Chios on April 4.

Based on those interviews and text messages exchanged between those interviewed and the deportees, Human Rights Watch documented an array of irregularities and violations.

The authorities did not inform people that they were going to be deported, did not tell them where they were being taken, and did not allow some of them to take their personal possessions.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, thirteen of those deported from Chios had expressed a desire to seek asylum in Greece, and that number could be higher,

The Greek authorities appear to have hurried the forced returns from Chios, and the 136 other deportations that day from the nearby island of Lesbos, to meet a publicized deadline for the start of returns under the ill-conceived EU-Turkey deal that went into effect on March 20, 2016.

That deal allows the return of asylum seekers to Turkey on the presumption that Turkey is safe for asylum seekers and refugees.

…The deportations from Chios began around midday on April 3, when Greek police at the VIAL detention facility took dozens of people to the main building [Tabakika] where police and Frontex register new arrivals, and where the Greek asylum service is located.

The authorities separated the 66 people they had identified for return, witnesses said. The 12 friends and one relative of the 19 deportees, who did not want their names published, told Human Rights Watch that the police had called people on the false pretext that they were to be registered, including for asylum.

“Salim,” a 24-year-old man from Afghanistan, said the police took three of his Afghan friends, Ilias Haqjo, Mohammad, and Reza (full names unknown), all between 20 and 25 years old, without their possessions.

“They came here and told them they have to go to register,” he said. “They left happy and when they came out the police were waiting for them…. If the guys knew they were going to be deported, they would have taken their bags, their papers, their money.”

On the other side, in Dikili, Turkey, the authorities hung blue tarps on the fence around the registration tents to block journalists and human rights monitors from contacting the deportees. The police commander at the area denied a Human Rights Watch request to access the site.

The deportees were then loaded onto buses and driven away. Police at the site told Human Rights Watch that they were headed to Kirklareli, near Edirne, and the media subsequently reported that the people deported from Greece were being held at the Pehlivankoy removal center in that town.

The deportees on the buses in Turkey, however, seemed not to know where exactly they were going. “Now we’re in the bus, they’re taking us to a camp,” Mohsen Ahmadi wrote his friend “Amir” around 3 p.m. “Why there?” “Amir” asked. “I don’t know, the camp is near Istanbul,” Ahmadi replied.

“When you arrive, let us know,” “Amir” wrote. “OK,” Ahmadi wrote back at 8:28 p.m., but that was the last message that “Amir” received.

Human Rights Watch collected the phone numbers of four of the people who were deported from Chios on April 4. As of April 18, none of them had replied to messages on Viber, the application they had been using. When called, three of the phones appeared to be shut off and one of the numbers was not working.

The legal basis of confiscating phones from people being deported, if any, remains unclear. Given that asylum seekers and migrants rely on their phones to stay informed and to keep in touch with family, such measures appear unnecessary and cruel, as well as a violation of the individuals’ personal property rights, Human Rights Watch said.

EU/Greece: First Turkey Deportations Riddled With Abuse (Human Rights Watch)

Previously: Meanwhile, On Chios

‘Is Our Response To Be Defined By Barbed Wire, Tear Gas And Rubber Bullets?’



The amount of powdered baby milk each infant in Vial allegedly gets every day

Further to the picture (above) circulating on social media last Thursday…

Patrick Kingsley, of The Guardian, reports:

Babies detained in Greece under the terms of the EU-Turkey migration deal are being denied access to adequate supplies of milk formula, refugees and aid workers have alleged.

Approximately 25 babies under the age of six months, whose mothers are unable to breastfeed, are being given roughly 100ml of milk formula just once a day on the island of Chios, according to photographs sent by detained refugees and testimonies provided by phone.

… A 35-year-old Afghan construction manager, detained in a detention centre on Chios since 21 March, said he had been forced to mix water with bread to stop his five-month-old daughter going hungry.

The man, who said he worked as a contractor for the British army in Afghanistan but asked not to named for fear of victimisation, said: “They are only giving us half a cup of milk for all 24 hours – but that’s not enough. There’s no more milk for lunch or dinner or during the night. This is a big problem. There are maybe 24 or 25 babies under six months.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council, which maintains a presence on Chios, confirmed the claim and said the number of infant children may even be higher. “It’s clear that baby milk [formula] is not being routinely distributed,” said Dan Tyler, the NRC’s protection and advocacy officer on Chios. “I did a series of meetings with refugees last week, and mothers brought up [the issue of] baby milk all the time.

Refugee babies detained on Greek island ‘not getting adequate milk’ (Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian)

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Norwegian lawyer Sofie Railo (left) gives sweets to children through the fence of VIAL, the closed detention facility on Chios island, Greece, where around 1,000 people are detained

You may recall how, on April 4, when the first deportations following the EU/Turkey deal took place, the UN claimed 13 of the 202 people deported hadn’t been given the opportunity to seek asylum.

It was reported that the police officers on Chios island ‘forgot’ the 13 Afghan and Congolese asylum seekers and that there was ‘administrative chaos’ on the island.

It’s since been reported that those 13 people are now being detained in a detention centre in north-western Turkey – built with EU money – and that they will be deported to their home countries.

The Turkish government refused to allow both the UN high commissioner for refugees and The Guardian meet with these 13 people.

Further to this, Human Rights Watch released a new report yesterday, after it gained access to the detention camps VIAL and Moria, on the islands of Chios and Lesbos respectively – where around 4,000 people are being detained in total.

It visited the two camps between April 3 to 9 and found that, of those interviewed by HRW, none had been given a detention order or were informed about the reason for their detention – even though, under Greek and international law, all detainees, including asylum seekers, must be be informed, in a language they understand, of the reasons for their detention and their rights.

HRW also found that those detained on Chios didn’t know they could challenge their detention and had no effective access to lawyers while, as of April 9, there were too few interpreters at the camp.

It also reports:

On Chios, only one case officer from the Greek asylum service is reviewing asylum claims; as of April 8, he had processed 9 of 1,206 cases of people who had expressed the desire to apply for asylum in Greece. Three more officers are scheduled to arrive at the end of May. The lack of interpreters requires the use of interpretation services over the phone from Athens.

Five officers from the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) are supposed to arrive on Chios on April 18. Their role, under the EU-Turkey deal, is to conduct preliminary reviews to determine whether asylum applications are inadmissible because the person had or could have applied for protection in Turkey.”


Sofie Railo is a Norwegian lawyer who recently returned home from volunteering on Chios island during the Easter holidays, with A Drop In The Ocean (Dråpen i Havet).

She writes…

“Balloon, balloon, caramella, caramella, shokram [‘thank you’ in Arabic].”

The children are bombarding me with their hopeful voices. In the background, I think I hear something else. Is someone singing? Well, I can’t think about that now. I have to focus on the children as their little fingers push desperately towards me through a brand new fence – topped with barbed wire.

It’s Easter and, instead of having Easter eggs, I have a shopping bag full of chocolate and sweets. I don’t feel like the Easter Bunny but I do hope to see even one child smile through the fence, so I keep on giving out one chocolate here, one lollipop there.

Then someone pulls my arm.

“You have to stop, the police are coming,” one of the other volunteers says. I turn around and see 10 riot police with helmets, shields, batons and more lining up behind us. And the sound of what I originally thought was singing grows louder.

It becomes apparent that the sound is actually that of twenty young men marching through the camp, calling for “freedom”. Fear settles across the children’s faces.

This is my first time in VIAL, the closed detention facility on Chios island.

When I came to Chios to volunteer I expected to work on the beaches and assist people as they arrived terrified, wet and cold, yet happy to be alive.

But during my first week I spent most of my time in the open camps of Tabakika, the port, Daphite, and Souda handing out breakfast, playing with the children, and talking with their parents.

Then, all of a sudden, I found myself passing food through the barbed wire-topped fence in the prison camp that is VIAL.

More than 1,200 people were locked up in Vial when I was there, most of them refugees fleeing war, bombing, arrest and terror. There are of course some economic migrants among them, too.

But the only ‘crime’ they committed – leading to their detention in Vial – was to enter Greece on a small rubber dinghy from Turkey after March 20, the deadline date set down in the EU/Turkey deal.

Of the 1,200 people, more than 400 were children, the youngest of whom was only 10 days old.

Greece had less than 48 hours to prepare for the implementation of the EU/Turkey deal which, from March 20, is supposed to see all refugees who arrive in Greece from Turkey detained until they are registered, given the possibility to seek asylum and had their application processed.

But Greece was unable to prepare for such an administrative change in such a short time.

Within two to three days of the March 20 deadline, more than 1,200 people arrived on Chios alone and the only reason the number wasn’t higher was because of bad weather.

Over the next few days more people arrived and, suddenly, more than 1,700 people were locked up in a camp built as a registration camp for a maximum of 1,000 people.

These 1,700 people were detained with hardly any information about what was going to happen to them. The authorities serve one meal a day, sometimes only boiled potatoes, and, at least for the first few days, they didn’t have enough food for everybody. They still don’t have enough water to give out and have no baby milk or diapers.

The second time I went to VIAL, we came to deliver dinner with a volunteer soup kitchen run by a group of Basque people. No guards came to open the gates for us so we decided to make two lines and handed out cups of soup and bread from the car down through the fence where the refugees detained helped us hand it out.

Three times a day volunteers from all over the world came together to make sure the people detained had food. Our presence became even more important when the big organisations such as the UNHCR, Norwegian Refugee Council, Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and more, pulled out as a way of protesting against the conditions of the detention camps, not only on Chios, but on all the major islands in the Aegean Sea.

Inside the camp, tension grew amongst those detained because of a lack of food and water, a lack of sleeping space, a dire lack of basic hygiene and, more importantly, a lack of information about what was going to happen to them, an explanation for why they were detained, or how long they had to stay for – all prompting protests, and fights breaking out between different groups of refugees.

The situation become so bad that families, scared, nervous and fearful of what was going to happen, tore down the fences and left the camp with more than 400 people walking down to the main harbour of Chios, deciding that they and their children would be safer sleeping rough than inside VIAL.

And me?

At the end of stint, I just walked into the local airport, flashed my passport and was back home in the northern end of Europe within 7.5 hours.

I left Greece feeling Europe has lost its basic values of human rights. I support efforts to stop smugglers, and to find other ways to let refugees that actually need protection have a safe way to apply for asylum. 

But this attempt failed because of the process and hasty implementation. When the EU decides to lock people up in prison camps, the EU must at least make sure those inside have covered the basic needs – food, water, medicine and baby milk.

It’s scary to think it only took 3.5 years to go from being the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize to failing to uphold the most basic of human rights – something which supposedly led the EU to win this prestigious reward.

Is the ‘advancement of human rights’ no longer valuable in Europe?

The second thing I learned on my flight home was that 7.5 hours is not enough time to figure out what would actually have been the right answer to questions such as: “If I hurt myself, do you think they will let me go to a European hospital?”

But, despite all my feelings of sadness, anger and disappointment over the way Europe is treating these people, there is one thing I will never forget: the smiles and the waves from the children every time they saw our cars driving towards the camp VIAL.

Read the report in full here

Previously: Soulless Asylum

Meanwhile, On Chios