Syrian refugees waiting to cross into Turkey
A young girl waiting in line to pass through a border gate on February 8, 2016 in Kilis, Turkey. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Turkish border police are shooting refugees dead as they flee Syria. Over the past four months, a total of 16 migrants, including three children were killed by guards as they tried to cross into Turkey, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed.

An officer with the British-backed Free Syrian Police and a Syrian smuggler living in Turkey however said that the number of Syrian refugees killed while trying to get into Turkey was higher. According to the monitoring NGO, on 6 February, a man and his child was killed in Ras al-Ain on the eastern stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border.

"Turkish soldiers used to help the refugees across, carry their bags for them. Now they shoot at them."
- People smuggler

On 5 March, two migrants were shot dead at Guvveci, on the western flank of the border. The human smuggler told The Times that refugees still cross the border but they are in danger of either being killed or captured.

The newspaper claims that Turkey started its crackdown on refugees in December after four years of free movement into the country even allowing in Syrians who did not have passports. The clamp down, it said, was due to growing pressure from the West to stop the number of foreign fighters using the border as a gateway to the Islamic State territory.

The Turkish government says that it is still keeping an open-border policy for Syrians whose lives are under imminent threat. The newspaper however noted that tens of thousands of people who fled fighting in the Aleppo province last month remain trapped behind the closed border.

The Times also said that a huge concrete wall is being built along the border, replacing the rolls of barbed wire. More security forces have also been drafted in after the governor of the border province of Gaziantep declared a special security zone in mid-December.

A people smuggler told the newspaper that he had been part of a small gang providing a route into Turkey for £24 per person. He said that four months ago, the killings of fleeing refugees started.

He claims that the real number of refugees shot by Turkish border guards was higher as the bodies of those killed on the Syrian side were often taken back to be buried in the war zone. The lucky ones are those who were injured on the Turkish side. They are taken to a Turkish hospital for treatment and then allowed to stay, he said.

The European Union has made a pact with Turkey to help deal with the growing refugee problem in the continent. Under the deal, Ankara will take back all migrants who cross to Greece illegally by sea. In exchange, the EU will take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey. In addition, Turkish citizens will get visa-free travel in the Schengen zone from June.