Turkish security forces have arrested and detained more than 200 Syrians refugees — including young children — fleeing the besieged border town of Kobane, according to their family members, lawyers, and local politicians.
Two hundred and seventy-four Syrians, including a large number of woman — one pregnant — and minors have been held inside a single large room at a police station on the outskirts of Suruc in Sanliurfa province since October 5, Meral Danis Bestas, executive Committee member with the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), said Friday after visiting the detainees along with Sanliurfa Bar Association President Ali Fuat Bucak and Serhat Eren of the Kurdistan Lawyer's Association.
The refugees were fleeing Kobane, also known by its Arabic name Ayn al-Arab, after Islamic State (IS) jihadists launched a major offensive on the majority Kurdish town last month. Authorities have given no indication of when they would be released, Bestas (pictured above) told VICE News after emerging from the police station and speaking with waiting families, and 150 of the detainees are now on hunger strike.
Bestas said the detention, especially of minors, in such conditions was illegal and pledged to push for their release: "To those who say that no one knows about these people and they don't have a voice, we know and we are trying our best to help them. We will not stop until they are free."
Bucak added that at some of the detainees were injured and all were being held in unsanitary conditions. "It is not clean," he told VICE News. "They don't even have soap or water to wash."
Authorities had said that the detainees would be freed at 4pm Friday, family members told VICE News. However, the time came and went and authorities subsequently said they would be held longer with no release date set. "The promise was to get them out today, but they didn't and now we don't know exactly when they will get out," Bucak said. "The situation is very bad."
Bestas said that no reason had been given for the arrest of the refugees, but speculated that security forces might have suspected them of being members of the People's Protection Units (YPG), the armed group defending Kobane against IS attack. However, she denied that this was the case. "They are all civilians, there are no YPG. There is no reason why they were captured."
More than 180,000 residents of the Kobane area have already flooded into Turkey following the IS offensive.
Outside the police station, where families had gathered in anticipation of their loved ones being released, Ahmed Badar told VICE News that several of his friends were inside and had been arrested by Turkish border guards attempting to cross as part of a group. He too said that the Turkish government had likely assumed that they were YPG members, something he described as an "injustice".
Rashad Mahmoud told VICE News that his son had been arrested while attempting to retrieve his car from Kobane. As a result, he added, he had told family members still in the town not to cross into Turkey. "My brother is still in Kobane, but we told him not to come as he will end up straight in jail," he said.
Members of the local authorities could not immediately be reached for comment by VICE News, but guards at the police station gate acknowledged the presence of the detainees and said that they'd be free within "one or two weeks" but refused to answer any further questions regarding numbers.
UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura warned on Friday civilians that 5-700 civilians still in the town and 10-13,000 stuck in a border area would be in great danger if IS took control of Kobane and would "be most likely massacred."
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