December 2, 2014
(Istanbul) – Landmines placed decades ago by the Turkish military have killed at least three civilians trying to flee Syria and injured at least nine others, Human Rights Watch said today. The landmines, in a restricted zone along the border with Syria, threaten thousands more Syrian refugees.
To prevent further casualties and protect civilians, Turkey should undertake immediate efforts to safely relocate over 2,000 Syrian refugees remaining in the minefield and educate the refugees about the risk posed by the landmines, Human Rights Watch said. Turkey should clear all mined areas on its territory, starting with areas of its border with Syria where refugees may cross and mine clearance personnel can operate safely.
“To fall victim to a landmine after losing your home and fleeing your country is a fate no one should have to endure,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a 1997 Nobel Peace Laureate. “Turkey has the capacity to clear its minefields and should clear them immediately.”
Fighting began around the Syrian border town of Kobani (or Ain al-`Arab in Arabic) between Kurdish forces and the extremist militant group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in September 2014. Since then, thousands of Syrians have fled across the border into Turkey through a narrow strip of mined land just inside Turkey northwest and northeast of Kobani.
Satellite imagery recorded as far back as 1968 shows this strip of land is part of an extensive belt of minefields that the Turkish military laid along its border with Syria in the 1950s. Turkey reported that between 1957 and 1998, Turkish forces laid 615,419 antipersonnel mines along the Syrian border “to prevent illegal border crossings.”