Turkey has illegally returned thousands of Syrians to their war-torn homeland in recent months, highlighting the dangers for migrants sent back from Europe under a deal to come into effect next week, Amnesty International says.
Turkey agreed with the EU this month to take back all migrants and refugees who cross illegally to Greece in exchange for financial aid, faster visa-free travel for Turks and slightly accelerated EU membership talks.
But the legality of the deal hinges on Turkey being a safe country of asylum, which Amnesty said in its report on Friday was clearly not the case.
It said it was likely that several thousand refugees had been sent back to Syria in the past seven to nine weeks, flouting Turkish, EU and international law.
Turkey's foreign ministry denied Syrians were being sent back against their will. Turkey had maintained an "open door" policy for Syrian migrants for five years and strictly abided by the "non-refoulement" principle of not returning someone to a country where they are liable to face persecution, it said.
But Amnesty said testimonies it had gathered in Turkey's southern border provinces suggested the authorities have been rounding up and expelling groups of around 100 Syrian men, women and children almost daily since the middle of January.
Many of those returned to Syria appear to be unregistered refugees, though the rights group said it had also documented cases of registered Syrians being returned when apprehended while not carrying their papers.
Amnesty also said its research showed the authorities had scaled back the registration of Syrian refugees in the southern border provinces. Those with no registration have no access to basic services such as healthcare and education.
Under the deal with the EU, Turkey is supposed to be taking in migrants returned from Greece on April 4, but uncertainty remains over how many will be sent back, how they will be processed, and where they will be housed.
The aim is to close the main route by which a million migrants and refugees poured across the Aegean Sea to Greece in the past year before heading north, mainly to Germany and Sweden.