Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups are committing serious human rights violations against civilians in the Kurdish canton of Afrin, Amnesty International revealed last week. The human rights monitor identified Syrian opposition groups Ferqa 55, Jabha al-Shamiye, Faylaq al-Sham, Sultan Mourad, and Ahrar al-Sharqiye as the main human rights abusers.
The worrying news come after the Greek paper Kathimerini reported in May that most new refugee arrivals in Greece now travel over land, crossing the river Evros on the Greek- Turkish border, and are Kurds from Afrin.
The violations are largely committed by the Syrian rebel groups, who are armed and equipped by Ankara. Local sources told the human rights monitor of at least 86 instances of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearance. In addition, Afrin region is experiencing a widespread looting and property confiscation, to which the Turkish army is turning a blind eye. What’s more, some of the rebel groups, and Turkish forces themselves, have taken over schools, disrupting the education of thousands of children.
Since March, children had been able to access only one school in Afrin city, while Afrin University has been shut down after it was destroyed and looted. One of the schools in Afrin is apparently being used as a Turkish army headquarters.
“Turkey’s military offensive and occupation have exacerbated the suffering of Afrin residents, who have already endured years of bloody conflict. We heard appalling stories of people being detained, tortured or forcibly disappeared by Syrian armed groups, who continue to wreak havoc on civilians, unchecked by Turkish forces,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.
Turkey and its allied forces occupy Afrin since March, following the military offensive against the YPG. The military offensive forced many of Afrin’s civilians to seek safety in the nearby al-Shahba region of Syria, where now at least 140,000 people are living in camps or damaged houses without proper access to services, especially medical care. Accorging to the AI report, Al-Shahba region is blocked by the Syrian govenment forces and the YPG, both deliberately preventing displaced people from returning to their homes or travelling further into Syria.
Since Turkey and allied armed groups seized control of Afrin, hundreds of people have been trying to return to the city by foot through a mountainous route, as the YPG has blocked the official routes into the city, preventing displaced people from returning. Many of those who managed to return found that their properties had been confiscated and their possessions stolen by armed groups allied with Turkey.
Amnesty approached the Turkish government for comment on the report’s findings. Ankara did not offer a solid response – merely questioning the researchers’ terminology.