UNHCR alarmed by reports Turkey deported Syria refugees

The UN refugee agency sounded the alarm Thursday over reports that Turkey deported Syrians after clashes in a camp where they had sought refuge, but Ankara rejected claims they were forced back to the war-ravaged country.

On Wednesday, police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse Syrians protesting after a fire in the camp -- which houses some 25,000 refugees -- killed a child and injured three other people, Turkey's Anatolia news agency reported.

"UNHCR is very concerned with reports of a serious incident and allegations of possible deportations from Akcakale Tent City in the past 24 hours," chief spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told AFP.

She said the agency was seeking further information about what happened in Akcakale, near Turkey's border with Syria, and was in contact with the authorities.

"Forced returns to Syria, if they occurred, would be contrary to Turkish legal frameworks and international principles," she said.

"We strongly support the implementation of law and order in the camps and the use of the national legal system to bring the perpetrators of crimes to justice. However, forced returns of refugees to their country of origin cannot be used as a punishment or deterrent," she added.

Turkey dismissed the idea that it was forcing Syrians to go home.

"Turkey has no policy of deporting Syrians. It would be against our general policy of accommodating Syrians," Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Gumrukcu told AFP.

Gumrukcu said Syrians who want to go back to their homeland of their own free will can do so.

After the violence, he said, 60 Syrians -- including those who were involved in the clashes -- voluntarily returned to Syria overnight.

The protest erupted after the fire killed the child, as dozens of angry camp residents raged against living conditions, pelting police with stones.

Anatolia said one protester was injured as anti-riot police, called as back-up, cracked down.

Some 200,000 refugees are accommodated in Turkish camps along the Syrian border, while another 70,000 are living in houses rented in several Turkish towns.

More than a million people have fled the spiralling violence of Syria's civil war, which broke out in March 2011 after President Bashar al-Assad's regime cracked down on protests inspired by the Arab Spring.