A Danwatch investigation

Turkey bars refugees from leaving war-torn Syria with help from EU funds

John Hansen

Journalist / Politiken

John Hansen

Journalist / Politiken

Research: Ida Emilie Stigaard Bruhn / Translation: Nikolaj Skydsgaard / Photo: Getty Images
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23. March 2018
An investigation into hundreds of EU-contracts reveals how the EU is funding military equipment used by Turkey to prevent refugees from escaping the civil war in Syria. The EU are complicit in violating human rights, experts say.

På dansk?

Penge fra Danmark og EU hjælper Tyrkiet med at spærre krigsflygtninge inde i Syrien

Læs undersøgelsen

Two years ago refugees were roaming Danish highways and arriving on the southern shores of the Scandinavian country with ferries from Germany. Those days are over now.

The diminished flow of refugees entering Europe has been credited to a deal between the EU and Turkey. As part of the deal, the EU pays Turkey 3 billion euro to keep refugees, some fleeing acts of war in Syria, in Turkey and bar them from entering the EU.

But there are other deals with Turkey, that are lesser known: The EU is also supplying Turkey with funds for military equipment, which is being used to hinder refugees from seeking asylum in Turkey and escape the acts of war in Syria.

An investigation into hundreds of EU-contracts conducted by Danwatch and Politiken in collaboration with the European media network, EIC, reveals that EU has supplied Turkey with armoured military vehicles and surveillance equipment for border patrolling worth 83 million euro.

42 civilians killed by the border

Turkey has closed its border to Syria by erecting a three-meter high border wall, which spans 911 kilometres of the border territory between Turkey and Syria. The wall, which will be finished within weeks, effectively prevents Syrians from escaping the acts of war happening in Syria.

The border wall has been built with advanced surveillance equipment, which detects refugees approaching the border. It warns approaching refugees not to advance any further towards the border with powerful speakers. If they do, remote-controlled shooting towers commence firing deadly rounds at them.

Since September last year 42 civilians have been killed while attempting to cross into Turkey from Syria, according to Rami Abdurrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, confirms that while the number of refugees fleeing Syria is on the rise, it has become almost impossible to cross the border except for severely wounded or sick people.

Violation of human rights

That is a violation, states Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen, research director at Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, and adjunct professor at Aarhus University in Denmark.

“If lethal rounds are fired at refugees trying to cross the border, this is an outright violation of human rights. If the border wall makes it impossible for Syrian refugees to seek asylum, this is another violation of international law, specifically the principle of non-refoulement (no return)”, Gammeltoft-Hansen said.

An investigation into EU-contracts reveals how EU-funds are financing equipment used at the Turkish border to deter refugees. The EU has, among other things, co-financed 82 armoured military vehicles known as Cobra II. The Cobras, equipped with periscope technology, can drive along the wall on the Turkish side and track refugees approaching the wall.

EU and Denmark might be complicit

It could make Denmark and EU complicit, if Turkey is illegally hindering refugees in seeking asylum and even shooting and killing them in their attempt to cross the border illegally“, Gammeltoft-Hansen said.

“EU-countries are in principle complicit, if they know that the equipment is used in a way that violates the refugees’ rights”.

The Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs will not answer questions about Denmark’s potential responsibility, but merely in a written reply to note that “it is a premise for cooperation that this is done in full compliance with EU law and international law and with full respect for fundamental human rights”.

A spokesperson for the European Commission said in a written response that the is EU following the situation at the border between Turkey and Syria ‘closely’ and is aware of information about violence at the border “but have not been able to get an independent confirmation from out sources nor from the Turkish authorities’, according to the answer.

Turkey’s Embassy in Copenhagen and the government in Ankara has for a week has not responded to inquiries.

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