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Amnesty International: 85 percent of Syrian refugees in Turkey living outside government camps

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ISTANBUL — With Turkey's government-run refugee camps operating at full capacity, more than 1 million Syrian refugees who have flocked to Turkey to escape fighting at home are struggling to survive on their own, according to an Amnesty International report released Thursday.

Turkey, which hosts half of the 3.2 million refugees who have fled Syria, is shouldering the heaviest burden of what the report calls the world's worst refugee crisis in a generation.

"In three days in September 2014, Turkey received some 130,000 refugees from Syria — more than the entire European Union had in the past three years," the report said.

It also detailed cases where Turkish border guards have abused — even killed — refugees trying to enter the country.

An estimated 1.6 million Syrian refugees have entered Turkey since the Syrian war began in March 2011. About 220,000 are living in 22 government-run camps that offer food and essential services, the report said. The remaining 1.38 million — more than 85 percent — are living outside the camps, mostly in communities along the Turkey-Syrian border. An estimated 330,000 live in Istanbul, the Turkish commercial capital.

So far, Turkey has spent about $4 billion on Syrian refugees and granted free health care to all Syrian refugees in the country.

PHOTO: Syrian Kurdish refugees from the Kobani area sit in a tent at a camp in Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Syrian Kurdish refugees from the Kobani area sit in a tent at a camp in Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

The report said while Turkey has an open-border policy for Syrian refugees, there are just two fully open crossings along its 900-kilometer (560-mile) border. Even at those crossings, the report said, people without passports are being denied entrance unless they have urgent needs. Other refugees trek into Turkey through often dangerous crossing points.

According to Amnesty, at least 17 people were shot and killed by border guards at unofficial crossing points between December 2013 and August. The report cited 10 other incidents in which 31 people were allegedly beaten by Turkish border guards. The organization has shared the information with Turkish authorities.

"Turkey is clearly struggling to meet even the most basic needs of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. The result is that many of those who have made it across the border have been abandoned to a life of destitution," said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International's researcher on Turkey.

The report urged Turkey to "radically revise its border practices, ending the necessity for refugees to use dangerous irregular crossings."

Jordan is hosting 619,000 Syrian refugees and as of Oct. 14, Lebanon had registered 1.13 million, although the number in the country is believed to be far higher. Last month, Lebanon announced that it won't accept any more Syrian refugees except in special cases. Refugees already make up nearly a quarter of Lebanon's population of 5 million, stretching the tiny Mediterranean nation's already fragile infrastructure.

Of the United Nation's funding appeal for $3.74 billion to aid Syrians, only 51 percent has been received, the report said.

(An earlier version of this story stated that Istanbul is the capital of Turkey.)

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PHOTO: Syrian Kurdish refugees from the Kobani area sit in a tent at a camp in Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
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