The United Nations refugee agency is seeking clarification from Turkey after 18 refugees were forced to cross a fast-flowing river on the Turkish-Iraqi border, leading to the deaths of four by drowning.
The incident took place on Wednesday at an unpatrolled stretch of the border in Sirnak province in south-eastern Turkey.
According to witnesses interviewed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Turkish authorities had earlier attempted to forcibly deport 60 people of various nationalities to Iraq at an official border crossing. The Iraqi border authorities allowed 42 Iraqis to enter the country but refused to admit 18 Iranian and Syrian nationals. Turkish police then took the 18, including five Iranians whose refugee status had been recognized by UNHCR, to an area where a river runs along the border, and forced them to swim across.
Witnesses said that four people, including a refugee from Iran, were swept away by the strong river current and drowned. Their bodies could not be recovered. UNHCR is in contact with the surviving refugees through its office in Erbil in northern Iraq and reports that they are deeply traumatized.
UNHCR had previously asked the Turkish Government not to deport the five Iranian refugees, who had all been detained after attempting to cross into Greece in an irregular manner. The UN refugee agency had said that it did not consider Iraq a safe country of asylum for these refugees.