Kobanê-Suruç Visit Report 25 September 2014

Kobanê-Suruç Visit Report

25 September 2014

Human Rights Organizations

Helsinki Citizens Assembly – Human Rights Association

Association for Human Rights and Solidarity with the Oppressed

Human Rights Foundation of Turkey

Amnesty International Turkey

Migration Platform

Representatives of human rights organizations in Turkey conducted a field visit in order to investigate developments and human rights violations which begin with immigration and conditions of the refugees as a result of the attacks to Kobanê by the IS/ISIL/Daesh forces with heavy weapons at the Kobanê-Suruç border on 25 September 2014. The field visit includes a visit to Şanlıurfa Governor İzzettin Küçük, obtainment of information from İHD (İnsan Hakları Derneği/Human Rights Association) and Mazlumder (İnsan Hakları ve Mazlumlar için Dayanışma Derneği/Association for Human Rights and Solidarity with the Oppressed) that make observations in the field since the beginning, and impressions from Mürşitpınar border gate at the Suruç-Kobanê border, Yumurtalık border crossing point, Süleyman Şah Park/Tent City, Suruç district center and the city of Kobanê as well as on the spot observations of events at the border.

IHD Chairman Öztürk Türkdoğan, Mazlumder Chairman Faruk Ünsal, Amnesty International Turkey Chairman Taner Kılıç, TIHV (Türkiye İnsan Hakları Vakfı/Human Rights Foundation of Turkey) Founders’ Council member Coşkun Üsterci, HYD (Helsinki Yurttaşlar Derneği/Helsinki Citizens Assembly) Administrative Board member Emine Uçak Erdoğan, IHD Vice Chairman Serdar Çelebi,  Branch Chairmen and Administrative Board members of Diyarbakır and Şanlıurfa branches of IHD and Mazlumder, and IHOP (İnsan Hakları Ortak Platformu/Human Rights Joint Platform) Secretary member Barış Karacasu took part in the visiting delegation. Akdeniz Göç-Der (Mediterranean Association for Migration) Chairman Selahattin Güvenç and representatives of the Migration Platform also participated in the delegation.

The delegation came together in Diyarbakır on Thursday, 25 September 2014 early in the morning and went to Şanlıurfa via overland route. First, İHD Şanlıurfa Branch was visited, branch managers who served in the field during when the refugees started to enter the country through border gates in masses beginning with 20-21 Semptember 2014 were interviewed, and information on problems through this process were obtained.

After this meeting, a meeting with Şanlıurfa Governor İzzettin Küçük was conducted on the basis of an appointment taken before the visit. Besides the delegation stated above, directors from Şanlıurfa Branches of İHD and Mazlumder were present in the meeting.

Then, the delegation visited the Yumurtalık Point/Gate through which the refugees enter Turkey in masses. Here, information was attained from an AFAD official on the admission procedure of the refugees, the organization at the entrance point was examined and some refugees were interviewed.

The third visiting place of the delegation was Süleyman Şah Refugee Camp. Information on the camp which was still in the stage of development was obtained from the officials.

Last destination of the delegation was the border gates of Mürşitpınar and Yumurtalık. The delegation went to Kobanê with representatives of other delegations and contacted officials from Kobanê and Rojava. Solidarity messages were delivered to the people of Kobanê. As a representative of human rights organizations, only İHD Chairman Öztürk Türkdoğan took part in the joint delegation which entered Kobanê.

An intense activity was observed in the Suruç district center and its neighborhoods. As a result of the obtained information and observations, it is determined that the refugees, also with encouragement by officials, try to live in Suruç and its neighborhoods with needs such as basic hygiene products, blankets and clothing materials for winter as well as with nutritional problems.

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Evaluation in Şanlıurfa Branches of İHD and Mazlumder

In the preliminary meeting, authorized personnel in Şanlıurfa Branches of İHD and Mazlumder pointed out the following problems on buildups at the border which began on 19 September 2014 and events after:

1. People were asked for ID in the first days and those who did not have any ID had problems, then this practice was loosened.

2. However, ID is still problematic for returning back; especially men who want to bring their families and return back have problems if they do not have any ID.

3. Different numbers on refugees are given; especially the records for the first days of border crossing are not reliable.

4. Animals and vehicles of the refugees are held in the Kobanê side of the border; their crossing is not allowed by the border.

5. There are severe and fierce interventions to those who come to support the refugees from Kobanê, moreover, these people are not even allowed into Suruç, and people in two sides of the border might scatter and go into minefields due to these interventions.

6. Women are searched by male police when they want to return to Kobanê, and this also happened before in the first days of entering into Turkey.

7. Before crossings began, a lot of people were kept waiting at the border for 2 days and no humanitarian aid was provided.

Meeting with the Governor of Şanlıurfa

After the meeting in the İHD Şanlıurfa Branch, the delegation went to meet Şanlıurfa Governor İzzettin Küçük with an appointment which had been taken before. Governor İzzettin Küçük was informed about the problems on the basis of both the delegation’s previous impressions and observations of authorized personnel from İHD and Mazlumder Şanlıurfa Branches who were working on the field since the first day, and information about these problems were gathered. Governor İzzettin Küçük shared the following information with the delegation members:

1. Crossings took place through 11 different spots in the first day when people from Kobanê were allowed entrance. During these crossings, refugees were counted without registration. According to the claim, 70 thousand people made entrance that day. Governor İzzettin Küçük told that he gave this order.

According to the official statement by the governorship, 138 thousand people entered Turkey by 25 September 2014. There are different numbers regarding the number of people who entered, varying between 30 and 140 thousand. Governorship insisted on 138 thousand while admitting not to have records of the majority of these people. The question by our branch managers on where so many people are accommodated was answered as “near relatives” and was not responded.

2. The governor said that entries are currently made through two points which are in Yumurtalık and Kendirli. These “gates” are always open, while they remained closed for 4 hours for a day. It was stated that this was due to thrown stones in the other side of the border [because of the problems in entrances and the interventions to those who come for support].

3. 1.500 people returned to Kobanê via Mürşitpınar Border Gate by 25 September 2014. We were not informed on what kind of a registration system was in place for those who return and whether they were compared to those who enter.

As a response to a question, Governor stated that there is a practice of asking for ID to refugees during returns through Mürşitpınar Border Gate but they do not implement it strictly and it is important to determine who goes out of the border since many people in the region are able to speak Kurdish and Arabic and that those who are determined to be citizens of the Republic of Turkey are not allowed to leave. In addition, when the Governor was informed that women refugees were being searched by male police officers in a border gate, he called officials and ordered for a female police to be sent to that area.

4. In the first 24 hours, there was severe danger specifically at the minefield due to the crowd of refugees. As a result of mine explosion, a woman was injured and a baby lost a hand.  Explosion happened as a result of children playing with mines while waiting in the minefield.

5. Even though the delegation stated to the Governor that Kurdish people from Kobanê and their relatives in Turkey and those who want to support the Kurdish people as a reaction to brutality of ISIL in Kobanê are prevented from coming to Suruç border line, excessive force is often used against those who come to the border and they are scattered by force, and that these problems can be solved by ending the current approach and constituting an atmosphere of dialog which is open to cooperation with NGOs, the Governor clearly asserted that those who come for moral support will not be allowed into Suruç.

When the Governor was reminded that security forces use intense violence against those who come for solidarity across the country, he responded that while solidarity is important, those who come encumber, create a crowd, jam traffic, do not provide medicine, food or similar help to refugees and that they do not want those who come for solidarity because of these reasons.

6. As a response to the question why animals such as cattle, sheep and goats which were brought by refugees are not allowed to enter Turkey, the Governor reported that there are 17-20 thousand sheep and goats and 5 thousand cattle that wait in a field without mines at the border behind wire netting. It was stated that these animals are being waited due to health reasons and that there are animals with diseases including foot-and-mouth disease among the animals. In addition, it was indicated that the governorship feeds the animals with grasses and water. It was mentioned that they are working on a plan to buy these animals, destroy those with contagious diseases, and utilize healthy ones appropriately. Some refugees whom the delegation has interviewed at Yumurtalık entrance point stated that ISIL militants either steal or kill the animals at night.

Again as a response to a question, the Governor stated that vehicles brought by refugees are not allowed to enter Turkey because they do not have any documents and licenses and the officials worry that they may have hidden weapons and bombs.  When reminded that vehicles in these conditions were allowed to enter before, the Governor told that the refugee admission organization is not completed yet and necessary matters will be attended after the completion. It is pointed out that a storage park for vehicles is being made in the Turkish side of the border and the vehicles wait there.

We should indicate that there are people from Kobanê who do not go to camps or any other location and stay in fields because they do not want to leave their animals and vehicles. It is necessary to aid those people who stay in the fields dispersedly.

7. The Governor stated that anyone who are brought to Turkey as injured from battles are treated regardless of their side in the battles and sent back due to UN laws, as a response to the question on whether ISIL militants are provided with health services.

8. The governor stated that the refugees are encouraged to a great extent to go to stay with their relatives in Suruç and Şanlıurfa, and those who have no relatives stay in camps. He said that the camp organization is insufficient and they plan to build a camp with a capacity of 20 thousand people in case number of refugees increase.

9. The Governor did not response to questions on the number of specialists, general practitioners and other medical personnel in camps and entrance points and the quality of medical services, and only stated that they have 30 ambulances.

10. On practices that have been implemented, the Governor stated that “We do not say ‘we did everything great’ until now, there might be some problems when 80 thousand people come, it should be evaluated within this context”.

Yumurtalık Village Border Crossing Point

The delegation set out to move to Suruç after the meeting at Şanlıurfa Governorship. Even though it was stated that most of the refugees settled with their relatives, the delegation observed lots of people from Kobanê were living on the streets in Suruç.

In addition to this, people from Kobanê were staying in empty stores, wedding halls, sports facilities, all facilities belonging to municipalities and unfinished construction sites. It was observed that there were numerous people from Kobanê in neighboring villages. According to the information obtained by the delegation, 700 people were staying in bulgur plants, and 980 people resided in Karaca village. According to the information obtained from interviewed mukhtars, 28 thousand people resided in Suruç and neighboring villages.

A coordination center was set up by Suruç municipality, and teams of this center attend to the problems of accommodation and nutrition, they deliver 2 meals a day, one in the morning and one in the evening.

On the basis of interviews with people of Suruç and people from Kobanê, it was observed that they have certain opinions on conflicts and the background of them. People from Kobanê indicated that they primarily want to return. However, the opinions that the conflict may endure and that Turkey helps IS/ISIL are prevalent. There were people who stated they saw that military equipment have been brought to the border via trains and delivered to IS/ISIL. However, they told that they had no records of these when they were asked whether they have any evidence or not.

On the other hand, the delegation observed in the interviews with people of Suruç that numerous soldiers, police forces and other officials were placed in Suruç 10 days before the attacks on Kobanê; AFAD (Afet ve Acil Durum Yönetimi Başkanlığı/Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency) and Kızılay had started preparations, and the opinion that Turkey knew about the attacks on Kobanê beforehand was prevalent.

The delegation first visited Yumurtalık, which is one of the “gates” through which entrances are made, and interviewed officials and refugees there.

There was a three staged system in the entrances through the border. First stage consists of a security search, second stage consists of a search on goods brought by refugees, and third stage consists of a medical screening, vaccinations for children and registration. AFAD and Directorate General of Migration Management were working in coordination; AFAD was responsible for reception and accommodation and Migration Management was responsible for registration and follow-up. Records which were taken here manually were said to be processed in a system. Also, UNHCR (The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and Kızılay were in the field, both at the border and in Suruç. Kızılay was delivering 3 packages of biscuits and water per person in the first entry point.

It is possible to say that observations were made under comfortable conditions and officials were understanding and helpful towards representatives of human rights organizations. However, we should underscore once again that there were interventions and use of excessive force by security forces to people who came for solidarity around two provisional entrance points and in Suruç both before and after the visit of our delegation.

We had the chance to speak with the security forces, AFAD and Migration Management officers and the refugees from Kobanê during our visit in which we almost came to the zero point near the border. It was standing out that women, children and elderly formed the majority. It was stated that men who entered Turkey returned back, and we witnessed some men who were returning when we went to Mürşitpınar Border Gate.

AFAD officials told that most refugees were taken by their relatives after their registration was completed. Other people, however, were said to be transferred to tents in the Süleyman Şah Park which was relatively in close proximity.

Interviews with refugees who are among the first people to enter Turkey revealed that IS/ISIL demolished villages it entered, and beheaded some people they took captive. It was indicated that electricity and water supply were cut, and some animals were killed. It was learned that Şanlıurfa Governor’s plan to buy animals was known by the refugees, while there was no attempt for it.

The delegation drew following conclusions based on the observations made in the Yumurtalık crossing point:

• Refugees who came from neighboring villages to Kobanê and in part from Kobanê were observed to be substantially tired and exhausted, lacking hygiene and having only a few belongings.  Large majority of the refugees were composed of children, women and elderly.

• Entrance Point was composed of three stages. In the first stage which is close to the border line, the refugees were greeted by soldiers. Refugees who left their animals and vehicles to the pointed off-the-border area were passing to the second stage by going through a security check. Police officers who were waiting there were performing a refined search on the refugees and their belongings. Refugees who passed to the third stage were going through a very basic medical screening and directed to the vehicle in which registration was made after the children had their “tetanus and poliomyelitis vaccinations”. After the refugees in the vehicle were registered one by one, their destinations were determined. In the end, the refugees were boarded to buses which waited outside the barriers that separate the entry point either to be sent to their relatives or to camps.

• The personnel who work at the entry point seemed very tired and weary. In the last two days, around two thousand refugees arrived. AFAD officials stated that this was the lowest number among entrance numbers.

• We could not exactly learn the numbers and specialties of medical personnel working in the medicine tent in the area. Officials we spoke to indicated that they cannot estimate the exact number since they work in shifts while they guessed the total number of medical personnel to be 30. At that time, 6-7 people were working in the tent. Three ambulances were waiting behind the tent.

Süleyman Şah Park / Tent City (Near Mürşitpınar Border Crossing Point)

Following this visit, the delegation went to the “Tent City” in the Süleyman Şah Park where refugees who were not taken by their relatives were placed. This was a relatively small camp in which, according to the information given by the AFAD officials, there were 8-10 big tents with a capacity of 400 people. However, it was stated that only 200 people were placed in the tents. We learned from interviews with residents of the camp that they did not want to stay in official camps, they did not feel safe, and they preferred to leave after a while because of these reasons.

Infrastructure of the camp, such as toilets, baths and kitchens, were not completed yet. There was not yet a health center in the camp. Those with health problems were said to be sent to Suruç with ambulances. It was mentioned that Kızılay was bringing 3 meals a day from outside to the residents.

Officials in the camp said that some of the residents were either taken by their relatives or left the camp due to the conditions. The delegation did not enter to the tents deciding that it would be inappropriate and preferred not to take photographs.

There was construction for a second tent city next to the park. It was indicated that the capacity will rise to 5 thousand after the completion of this section.

Mürşitpınar Border Crossing Point Observations

After visiting the Süleyman Şah Camp, the delegation went to Mürşitpınar Border Gate which was used to return back to Kobanê. In addition to the observations made in there, the delegation went to Kobanê with representatives from other delegations and spoke to officials from Kobanê and Rojava. Solidarity messages to the people of Kobanê were delivered. Only İHD Chairman Öztürk Türkdoğan as a representative of human rights advocates took park in the joint delegation which went to Kobanê.

Observations we made during the time we were at Mürşitpınar Border Gate can be stated as follows:

• Mürşitpınar Border Gate is the only point through which returns are made and it is also the closest point to Kobanê. During the time were were in this place, we heard clashing and explosion sounds from time to time. As we came closer to the border gate, we heard explosion sounds and saw heavy smoke behind the hill on which Kobanê lies.

• The delegation made observations in the Mürşitpınar Border Gate for around more than an hour. Meanwhile, tens of refugees came to the border gate to return to Kobanê. Contrary to the Governor’s statements, it was seen that security forces (the police) asked the refugees for ID, however those who could not show ID were also allowed to pass. It was found that there was still no female police for searching at the point.

• Large majority of those who return were young men who return after bringing their families. There were also a limited number of families with small children and older men among those who return.

• An ambulance of Batman Municipality made an exit from Kobanê twice throughout the time we were waiting in front of the border gate. According to the statements of people around, ambulances were carrying injured people.

• Meantime, it was observed that 6-7 trucks of aid which were sent by Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government made exit out of Kobanê after dropping their load.  

Observations of İHD Chairman Öztürk Türkdoğan Who Took Park in the Delegation that Went to Kobanê

In front of Mürşitpınar Border Crossing Point, the Human Rights Delegation came across a delegation from HDP (Halkların Demokratik Partisi/Peoples’ Democratic Party) which included also members of parliament. As a result of negotiations with security officers, the members of parliament in the HDP delegation, some of the party managers, and İHD Chairman Öztürk Türkdoğan as a representative of human rights delegation were allowed to cross the border and speak with the officials in Kobanê.

A meeting was held with PYD (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat/Democratic Union Party) Co-chairman Asya Abdullah, Prime Minister of Kobanê Canton Enver Müslim and the members of the Council of Ministers. Our delegation was mentioned and the feelings of solidarity of the human rights delegation with the people of Kobanê were delivered in this meeting. Officials indicated their pleasure of having the delegation in Kobanê and stated that this stance empowered them spiritually. Officials from Kobanê stated that the air strikes to IS/ISIL by the coalition headed by the US could not stop the advance of IS/ISIL, hence there was no effective operation, the people of Kobanê could not get help from the international society, their demands for weapons were not met, IS/ISIL attacked by infiltrating through Turkey from time to time, that while Turkey is the only land through which help can be delivered, it is not allowed from this direction, and that despite all of these, Kobanê will show an historical resistance and the city will never surrender to the brutality of IS/ISIL.

The delegation went back to Mürşitpınar Border Crossing Point after holding the meeting and making observations for about 45 minutes.

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