Turkey's landmines kill civilians fleeing Kobani

Turkey’s landmines kill civilians fleeing Kobani

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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.”
The majority of the civilians fleeing Kobani have crossed into Turkey and been accommodated in nearby refugee camps. However, according to humanitarian workers, and apparent in recent satellite imagery, over 2,000 civilians remained as of November 18 in a section of the mine belt referred to as the Tel Shair corridor northwest of Kobani where they are at risk from landmines. They remain in the mine belt just inside Turkey because Turkey was refusing entry for cars or livestock and they did not want to leave behind their belongings. Human Rights Watch has also found evidence in satellite imagery recorded on November 14 that potentially hundreds more Syrian refugees remain in the mine belt near the Turkish villages of Mertismail and Çanakcı, less than 9 kilometers east of Kobani.
Turkey joined the Mine Ban Treaty in 2003, and as a state party had the legal obligation to perimeter-mark, monitor, and fence all mined areas as soon as possible “to ensure the effective exclusion of civilians.” It also had an initial treaty deadline of March 2014 to clear all mines, but received an extension until March 2022.
“Like other mine-contaminated areas, border minefields are not safe for civilians and should be cleared immediately to avoid further harm,” Goose said.
The Landmine Incidents
All of the incidents documented by Human Rights Watch occurred within the Tel Shair corridor, which runs along the Turkish side of the border immediately northwest of Kobani. Measuring between 300 and 400 meters in width, the corridor extends to the east, following a disused railway that physically marks the border between Turkey and Syria. To the north, the corridor is bounded by a barbed-wire fence that restricts further movement into Turkey.
The Tel Shair corridor area had at least 70 mine explosions between September 15 and November 15, according to humanitarian workers who spoke to Human Rights Watch. They also told Human Rights Watch that civilians died or were injured in at least six of these explosions, including one 10-year-old boy who was killed and seven other children who were wounded. In the other incidents, the mines were detonated by livestock, they said.
On November 7, a humanitarian worker told Human Rights Watch that a landmine explodes in Tel Shair every two to three days, caused by fleeing civilians or their livestock. He said refugees fleeing through the area have brought at least six undetonated landmines that they have cleared themselves to Turkish soldiers.
The injuries and deaths occurred when the victims were on foot, indicating that they stepped on antipersonnel mines. Some cars passing through the mined corridor have also been damaged, but no injuries have been reported as a result.
Human Rights Watch analyzed a detailed time series of satellite images recorded along the border, and identified a total of five large concentrations of civilians within the minefield belt to the northwest and northeast of Kobani. The satellite imagery confirms the presence of thousands of vehicles, as well as livestock, in the minefield as of November 13, the last available image date. – Human Rights Watch

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