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Syrian border official: ‘No explanation’ for Bab al-Hawa closing

This past Friday, the civilian administration of the only official […]

6 March 2016

This past Friday, the civilian administration of the only official border crossing between Turkey and rebel-held Idlib province announced its closure “until further notice” by Turkish authorities.

The closure of Bab al-Hawa came “without explanation from the Turkish authorities,” a member of the civilian border administration on the rebel-held Idlib side of the crossing tells Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani, requesting anonymity.

All trade and civilian travel is halted except for humanitarian emergencies and Syrians returning to Idlib from Turkey.

 Undated photo of the border crossing posted on March 4. Photo courtesy of Bab al-Hawa.

The night that the closure was announced, Turkish border guards shot nine Syrian civilians attempting to cross the border near Bab al-Hawa into Turkey illegally, killing one and injuring eight others, the border official says.

Those who try to cross the border illegally and risk injury or death have “no other option,” said

Abdelqader, a Syrian working at an office in the Turkish city of Reyhanli, just a few kilometers from Bab al-Hawa, that provides assistance to Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Tighter restrictions on Syrians in Turkey compounded by the nearly complete closure of all border crossings leave few legal options for those fleeing the fighting, says Abdelqader, who asked to be identified by his first name only.

“The closure of [Bab al-Hawa] will make matters worse.”

Syrian Bab al-Hawa border official who requested anonymity

Q: Why has the crossing been closed? Is it closed to everyone?

The crossing has been closed indefinitely, without explanation from Turkish authorities. The closure applies to all travelers and trade and only excludes emergency humanitarian cases. Syrians returning from Turkey may still do so.

Q: Why were civilians fired upon Friday night, and how?

Turkish border forces fired upon nine civilians attempting to cross the border illegally, killing one and seriously injuring eight others. [Such incidents] have occurred repeatedly, and not just at Bab al-Hawa. The Turkish government has stated that it will target any individual attempting to cross illegally.

[Ed.: Turkish President Ahmet Davutoglu reportedly stated last March that Turkish border officers were “not responsible for any person killed near the Turkish border.”]

Abdelqader, a member of the Office of Turkish-Syrian Relations in Reyhanli

Q: Why are people crossing illegally?

Those people don’t have official passports, so the Turkish authorities do not allow them to cross at official crossings. There is no other option except for the [unofficial] humanitarian crossings controlled by Turkish authorities [for example, Khirbet a-Joz in the north Idlib countryside].

[Ed.: These unofficial humanitarian crossings have been closed for approximately two months.]

Those who have passports register at official crossings and wait their turn for permission from the Turkish side. The closure of [Bab al-Hawa] will make matters worse.

Q: To what extent have recent bombings and the killing of a border officer one month ago impacted the situation of refugees, in your view?

There is a clear and direct impact. About one month ago, Turkish authorities stopped issuing the Kimlik [a card issued to Syrians that serves as an identity card and proves they have entered the country legally].

There didn’t used to be so much scrutiny, and a Syrian citizen could easily enter Turkey. Now there is a lot of scrutiny surrounding the Kimlik, and extensive questions about the reason for entering, where they are going, for how long, and who they will meet. There are more preliminary precautions.

These decisions, unfortunately, are all against the Syrian refugee. There has also been an uptick in patrols on the border, and any individual caught having entered illegally is expelled. A lot of Syrians have been deported.

[Ed.: In recent weeks, activists on the ground described as many as 300 Syrians a day who crossed the border being deported back to Syria by Turkish authorities via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing.

Last December, Amnesty International issued a report accusing Turkey of “unlawful detention and deportation” of refugees and asylum-seekers from Iraq and Syria, while Turkish government officials “categorically deny” the claims, Hurriyet reported.]

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