Rights group: fearing refugees, West curtails human rights




ISTANBUL (AP) — Western governments fearful of terror attacks and the potential threat posed by refugees are adopting counterproductive policies in the name of security, Human Rights Watch said in its world report Wednesday.

HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said "fear of being killed or starved" drove millions of people to flee Syria and other conflict zones in 2015, while fear of "what that influx of asylum-seekers would mean, particularly in Europe, led many governments to try to raise the gates" to block refugees.

He chided Europe and the United States for allowing fear of terrorism — particularly since November's Paris attacks — to give rise to "blatant Islamophobia and shameless demonizing of refugees" which alienates the very communities that could help in counterterrorism efforts.

"As a counterterrorism measure, Islamophobia is the last thing you would want," he said.

The organization unveiled its annual report reviewing human rights practices around the world in Istanbul. Turkey is home to 2.2 million Syrian refugees and the main departure point for migrants headed to Europe.

Roth urged Turkey, which has been promised $3 billion by the European Union in aid to prevent the outflow of migrants, to avoid measures such as turning refugees back to Syria or becoming party to any EU effort "to deny the basic rights of people to flee persecution."

The estimated 1 million asylum seekers who reached Europe by sea in 2015 would represent only 0.20 percent of the European Union population if member countries shared in resettlement, he said.

"'Creating a safe and orderly way for refugees to make their way to Europe would reduce lives lost at sea while helping immigration officials to screen out security risks," Roth said.

Policy makers in the U.S. and Europe, the report said, are using the terrorist threat as an opportunity to expand law-enforcement powers, including mass surveillance.

Meanwhile, Russia and China have embarked on the largest crackdown on civil society in decades, according to the 659-page report reviewing more than 90 countries. It noted similar trends in Turkey, Kenya, Sudan, South Africa and Israel.

Roth said the group is deeply concerned that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) are "trying to undermine any institution that is capable of holding it into account."

Senior HRW Turkey researcher Emma Sinclair-Webb said Turkey is witnessing the "most serious deterioration of human rights" since the AKP came to power in 2002.

Sinclair-Webb also raised concerns over civilian casualties amid escalating violence following the collapse of the peace process between Ankara and the outlawed Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK.

"Many people have died in circumstances which are extremely difficult to scrutinize because of the curfews" and restrictions on media access," she said.

Thousands of Kurds fled the historic Sur district in southeastern city of Diyarbakir on Wednesday after authorities there expanded a 24-hour curfew to include five more neighborhoods. Three soldiers were reportedly killed in a PKK-attack there.