AYS Special from Turkey: Deportations to Syria
Over the past months, we have received increasing reports of collective deportations of Syrian people on the move — both documented and undocumented — from different locations in Turkey to Syria. While this practice has been observed for some time, numbers seem to have increased sharply in the recent months.
THE SITUATION FOR PEOPLE ON THE MOVE IN TURKEY
According to the latest figures provided by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, Turkey is home to a total of 4,038,857 people on the move from around the world. More than 3.5 million people fled the Syrian conflict over the past decade. Turkey is a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention, but this only applies to people from European countries.
In April 2013, Turkey adopted the Law on Foreigners and International Protection (LFIP), which establishes a dedicated legal framework for asylum in Turkey and affirms Turkey’s obligations towards all persons in need of international protection, regardless of country of origin. The law created the Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) as the agency responsible for migration and asylum, which conducts the status determination procedure. Toward the end of 2018 DGMM took over all tasks relating to international protection, while UNHCR and its implementing partner, the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (SGDD-ASAM), were phased out of registering international protection applicants.
The LFIP provides three types of international protection status in accordance with Turkey’s “geographical limitation” policy on the 1951 Refugee Convention, plus one temporary status, created especially for people arriving from Syria.
- Persons who fall within the refugee definition of the 1951 Convention and come from a “European country of origin” qualify for refugee status under LFIP, in full acknowledgment of Turkey’s obligations under the 1951 Convention.
- Persons who fall within the refugee definition of the 1951 Convention but come from a so-called ‘non-European country of origin’, are instead offered conditional refugee status.
- Persons who do not fulfil the eligibility criteria for either refugee status or conditional refugee status but would however be subjected to death penalty or torture in country of origin if returned, or would be at “individualised risk of indiscriminate violence” due to situations or war or internal armed conflict, qualify for subsidiary protection.
- For people from Syria, Turkey implements a temporary protection regime, which grants beneficiaries a right of legal stay as well as some level of access to basic rights and services. All people who arrived in Turkey from Syria after 28 April 2011 are excluded from any other type of protection. Furthermore, Syrian refugees are subject to geographical restrictions, with mandatory residency in ‘their’ province in Turkey, but may also receive travel permits.
As we reported in previous specials and in our digests, the reality for people on the move in Turkey is very different to what is stated on paper. Police brutality and a lack of access to housing, medical care, education and lawful employment have been reported by various human rights watchdogs.
Especially since the start of the Turkish military operations in northern Syria in 2018, reports of pushbacks — collective deportations — to Syria have been increasing. Moreover, regardless of an individual’s legal status in the country, people have reported being rounded up, detained and forced to sign a ‘voluntary returns document’, before being sent back to Syria. Turkish authorities have been using Syrian people on the move in their war against the Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria (Federation of Northern Syria, or Rojava) in an attempt to change the ethnic demographics of the region.
DEPORTATIONS DESPITE LEGAL STATUS TO STAY IN TURKEY
In 2019, 2020 and 2021 groups such as Amnesty International detailed such illegal practices:
Without official statistics, estimating the number of forced deportations is difficult. But based on dozens of interviews conducted between July and October 2019 for the report, ‘Sent to a war zone: Turkey’s illegal deportations of Syrian refugees’, Amnesty International estimates that over the past few months the figure is likely in the hundreds. The Turkish authorities claim that a total of 315,000 people have left for Syria on an entirely voluntary basis.
It is illegal to deport people to Syria as it exposes them to a real risk of serious human rights violations.
THE CASE OF ANAS AL-MUSTAFA
Anas fled the Syrian civil war and his hometown, Aleppo, in 2016, when he crossed the border with Turkey and started a new life in Konya. Once there, he opened an NGO called ‘A Friend Indeed’, which supported around 175 Syrian households and 400 unaccompanied minors in Turkey with food packs and micro-credit. In May 2020, Turkish officers visited his home and he found himself under arrest, dubbed ‘a threat to national security’, detained and later deported to Syria, in Idlib. After this, Anas decided to go back to Turkey and walked 30 hours to the border. Once back in Konya, he found he was wanted by the police and with that his activities had been dissolved. Now, Anas is waiting for a decision of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Interim measures made it possible for his arrest warrant to be suspended but, now undocumented, he can’t leave the town of Konya.
MASS DEPORTATION FROM ISTANBUL, JANUARY 2022
In late January 2022, an incident occurred in Istanbul in which between 150 and 270 Syrian refugees were apprehended on the street by Turkish security forces. They spent about 10 days in police custody before being deported to the Idlib area in northern Syria.
The people who were deported are all young men, presumed to be up to 30 years of age. Remarkably and worryingly, all of them are registered under the temporary protection regime in Turkey and have appropriate identity documents. Authorities have often justified mass round-ups of people with the violation of geographical restrictions. However, some of the deportees were in Istanbul with valid travel permits. All of them were forced to sign documents that they would return to Syria voluntarily. Even though it can be assumed that some of them came to Istanbul from other Turkish provinces, the lack of a travel permit is not a reason for deportation. In the past, they had to report to the provincial directorate and pay a fine.
One case is particularly tragic. A Syrian man was in Istanbul with his 3-year-old child in order to attend an appointment at the Swedish Consulate General. His wife, who lives in Sweden, had applied for family reunification in the hope of reuniting with her family in the northern European country. The procedure was to be confirmed at that appointment. The father left his child with acquaintances for the interview, but he was stopped and detained on the way to the appointment, despite having a valid travel permit. Pointing out that he had to return to his child had no effect on the Turkish agents. Finally, he was deported (without his child) to northern Syria. Nothing is known about the whereabouts of the child.
Another deportee was in Istanbul to take the entrance exam for a university in the Turkish capital. He is also now in Idlib.
English-speaking and European press are notoriously unconcerned with what happens outside of the Western world, and these cases were almost totally ignored. The case of Anas appeared on a few Italian media, while the mass deportation of Syrian people in January was covered by Al-Jazeera, Syria TV, and Al-Monitor (in English). The decision of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on Anas’ case could help shed more light on the continuous violation of human rights at the Turkish/Syrian border at the hands of Turkish authorities and, according to Anas’ lawyers, could be a game-changer for many people in his situation.
These cases are of particular importance when we consider we are coming up on the anniversary of the EU Turkey deal and that current asylum processes in Greece focus only on the admissibility interview which asks if someone is at risk in Turkey. Mass deportations to countries which are understood by the international community to be unsafe, necessarily mean that Turkey itself is not safe for people on the move.
By Ali Al-Mouallim & AYS Info Tem
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