Syrian military attacks on armed opposition groups near the Turkish border hit two displaced persons camps on April 13 and 15, 2016, causing at least 3,000 people to flee, although they were unable to cross the border to safety, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
Human Rights Watch interviewed camp residents and members of the local civil defense forces, who said there were no fatalities in the camps, near the town of Bidama, though there was damage to tents and other property. A separate attack on a nearby displaced persons camp in late January killed two people and seriously injured three others. Turkey should open its borders to fleeing Syrians who have been forced into these camps near Turkey’s southwest border.
“Under fire even in makeshift border camps, Syrian victims of Turkey’s border pushbacks are paying the price,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. “As the world struggles to end attacks on Syrian civilians, it should at least support Turkey to open its border to people fleeing the conflict, and stop turning them into sitting ducks.”
Over the past three months, displaced Syrians who tried to seek refuge in Turkey were repeatedly pushed back at the border and into insecure border camps in the area. On April 14, Human Rights Watch reported that Turkish border guards enforcing Turkey’s one-year-old border closure shot at Syrians escaping ISIS advances northeast of Aleppo.
The Syrian military should immediately end indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, and uphold its obligation to take all feasible precautions to avoid killing or injuring civilians, and damaging civilian objects, including camps for displaced people, Human Rights Watch said. Likewise, Turkey should respect its obligations to allow all Syrian civilians fleeing fighting to seek protection in Turkey.
Hossam Zleito, head of the Bidama Syrian Civil Defense, made up of volunteer search and rescue workers, said that on April 13 and 15, the Syrian government struck areas around Bidama, including the Khirmash and Hambushiyah camps, to the northeast of the town. The Syrian government issued no statements on the attacks. On April 18, armed opposition groups announced that they would open a new offensive in the area, known as Jabal al-Akrad (or Kurdish Mountains).
According to humanitarian agencies monitoring the situation, at least 17,000 displaced civilians are in the area.
IDP camps in Syria
Syrian government forces’ advances since October 2015 in the Kurdish and Turkmen mountains to the northeast of the Syrian city of Latakia have displaced thousands of people. They have fled to various locations northeast of Latakia, near the Turkish border.
On April 16, Human Rights Watch spoke with five Syrians who had been living in the camps that were attacked the day before, Khirmash and Khabasi, which sheltered 2,000 people. Two Turkish border guard watchtowers overlook the camps.
Two of the witnesses said that Syrian government forces whom they believed were positioned in Ghamam, about 25 kilometers southwest of Bidama, and Ain Ashra, about 10 kilometers southwest of Bidama, started shelling roads near the camps on April 14, including the main roads between Bidama, Ain al-Hur and al-Hanbushiya. Human Rights Watch could not confirm where the attack had been launched.
The camp residents said that on April 15, artillery projectiles landed near both camps and inside Khirmash and that its 1,500 inhabitants had fled to nearby villages or into the hills.