Human Rights Watch claims that Turkish border guards have been expelling refugees from Afghanistan back over the border with Iran. The illegal pushbacks went hand in hand with bodily harm, the NGO said.
The allegations are severe: Turkish soldiers have been "brutally mistreating" migrants at the Turkish-Iranian border, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday (October 15) in an online statement.
Citing interviews with six Afghans, the organization said that some of them suffered broken bones, while two reported that the soldiers had taken away all their possessions and then brought them back over the border.
"The second time I crossed into Turkey I saw the Turkish soldiers beating people crossing with me to the point that they were covered in blood and had big wounds to their heads," HRW quotes one of the interviewees. "They beat me for about 20 minutes with the butts of their guns and sticks, leaving me bleeding."
HRW claims that Turkish soldiers collectively expelled Afghan migrants in groups of 50 to 300 as they crossed the border from Iran to Turkey. Some families were separated in the process, the organization said.
A 243-kilometer concrete wall, topped with barbed wire and surrounded by trenches, is currently being built along Turkey's 534-kilometer border with Iran, news agency AFP reported in late August. Crossing into Turkey from Iran regularly claims lives as migrants die in road accidents or of drowning trying to cross Lake Van in small boats.
Pushbacks refers to the practice of preventing people from seeking protection on their territory by forcibly returning them to another country, generally immediately after they crossed it. They are illegal, as they violate international law and human rights, including the principle of non-refoulement and the right of migrants to claim asylum after they cross a border.
At the time of publication, the Turkish government had not reacted to the allegations by HRW.
Controversial deportations from Turkey
In its statement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) also urged European Union member states, among other entities, to call on Turkey to no longer deport Afghan refugees to Iran, "where they are at risk of chain deportation to Afghanistan and other serious harms."
HRW also asked outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel to push the Turkish government during Saturday's (October 16) visit to Istanbul to stop the unlawful practice. It was unclear whether the German head of government actually raised the issue, but the two leaders reportedly did discuss the so-called EU-Turkey deal.
In Turkey, Afghans are the second-largest migrant group with 120,000 Afghan refugees and up to 300,000 undocumented Afghan migrants. The largest group are the approximately 3.6 million Syrians.
In recent weeks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeatedly said he wasn't willing to take in more migrants and refugees. He also called on European nations to shoulder the responsibility for Afghans fleeing the Taliban and warned that his country won't become Europe's "refugee warehouse".