Call to Protect Syrian Refugees Amid Deal on ‘De-Escalation Zones’
Russia, Iran and Turkey signed a memorandum to establish “de-escalation zones” in Syria, as human rights groups warned that the deal should not entail the forced return of refugees.
The agreement reached by the three outside powers in Astana, Kazakhstan, was not signed by rebel groups or the Syrian regime. Some Syrian opposition members walked out of the room in protest as it was signed, the Associated Press reported.
Russia said the deal will come into effect on May 6 and both the Syrian regime and Russia will halt flights over the zones if a cease-fire is respected. However, the regime pledged to continue fighting “terrorism.”
The details of the plan were still not fully clear. A statement said the zones include provinces of Idlib, areas north of Homs, the eastern Ghouta suburbs and an area in the south of the country. Yet Turkey indicated a much wider area, including the whole of Idlib and parts of Aleppo.
Nor was it clear how compliance with the deal would be monitored. A Russian delegate suggested that Russia or one of its allies might send their own observers.
Amnesty International warned the countries neighboring Syria not to use the agreement as a pretext to force refugees back to danger.
“States hosting refugees have an obligation not to forcibly return Syrian refugees to Syria where their lives and freedoms would be at risk,” the group said in a statement. “Nor should the ‘de-escalation zones’ be used to justify countries closing their borders and denying people fleeing conflict and persecution the right to seek asylum.”
Hungary Charges 11 Over Death of 71 Refugees in Locked Truck
Hungary charged 11 people over the death of 71 migrants and refugees who suffocated inside a locked truck as they were smuggled into Austria in 2015.
Austrian police discovered the decomposing bodies of 59 men, eight women and four children, from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Iran inside a sealed refrigerated truck left on the side of the road in August 2015.
Hungarian prosecutors said the truck’s driver heard their cries for help, but followed orders from the head of the smuggling gang not to let them out.
The next day, the same group smuggled a further 67 people across the border in another locked, refrigerated truck, but these refugees escaped by kicking open the doors, according to prosecutors. In total, the smugglers transported some 1,200 refugees to western Europe, earning at least 300,000 euros ($330,000), they said.
The Hungarian authorities charged four people with murder – a 30-year-old Afghan who organized the transport, a 31-year-old Bulgarian who heads the group and two Bulgarian drivers – and are seeking life sentences.
All 11 suspects were charged with human trafficking. Two of the defendants are still being sought by police. Hungarian media said the trial will start in June.
Dozens of Syrians Still Trapped on Algeria-Morocco Border
Dozens of Syrian refugees have been trapped in an area on the Morocco-Algeria border for more than two weeks, Human Rights Watch reported.
Two groups of Syrians, including 22 children and 20 women, have been living in dire conditions near the Moroccan city of Figuig since April 18. Two of the women are heavily pregnant and another gave birth there on April 23, the group said in a statement.
After traveling via Sudan and Libya, the Syrians left Algeria but were prevented from entering Morocco. Morocco accused Algeria of deporting the refugees, which the latter denied. Morocco has since agreed to give entry visas to nine Syrians with relatives in Morocco, HRW said, citing the United Nations refugee agency.
“While Algerian and Moroccan authorities squabble over which country should take the Syrians, men, women, and children are trapped in a desert-like area near the border between them, sleeping in the open and unable to apply for asylum,” HRW’s Sarah Leah Whitson said.
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