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Turkey has forcibly deported 155,000 refugees back to Syria, report says

Turkish authorities have reportedly been forcibly deporting hundreds of Syrian refugees per month, with over 155,000 having been deported, overall, between 2019 and 2021.

Turkish authorities have reportedly been forcibly deporting hundreds of Syrian refugees per month, with over 155,000 having been deported, overall, between 2019 and 2021.

According to a report released by the human rights organisation, "Syrians for Truth and Justice", the Turkish government has, for years, been forcibly sending Syrian refugees to northern Syria under the guise of "voluntary returns", using coercive methods of interrogation to pressure them to be deported.

Based on the interviews of 21 of the deported refugees, the report found that Ankara cancelled their kimlik cards [identification and protection documents issued by the Turkish government], imposed five-year-entry bans on the refugees, froze their bank accounts and removed them from their jobs.

Presenting the example of one of the deported witnesses, the report revealed that the process started upon the authorities' arbitrary arrest and detention of refugees – often over simple reasons. After weeks of detention, "they started to take groups of five young men out of prison every day. We did not know what happened to them," said the witness.

"On my turn, they took me to the interrogation room. The interrogator asked me a few questions and then said: 'Sign this paper. It is for your release.' I checked the document thoroughly and realised that it was the approval of 'voluntary return' to Syria. I refused to sign it and asked for a lawyer. The interrogator refused," he said.

Dismissing the fact that he had a kimlik card, was legally allowed to reside in Turkey, and ran his own business, they returned him to prison. Two days later, they "handcuffed me and coerced me to sign the 'voluntary return' document."

In May 2021, he and the other deportees were transferred to the border with Syria and handed over to the Syrian National Army (SNA) – a Turkish-backed opposition faction – which "detained, interrogated, beat, and humiliated us. After this, they asked us to pay them money in exchange for our release."

READ: Turkish ultranationalists should know that Assad is their enemy, not Syrian refugees

Upon being sent to northern Syria, refugees have reportedly also been subjected to blackmail and human rights violations, including detention and torture, by other opposition militias such as Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS). According to employees at the border who spoke with STJ for its report, Turkish authorities deliberately sent many refugees through the border crossing run by HTS, being fully aware that some of them were from the areas and were already wanted by the militant group.

By tracking data and statistics released by official media outlets tied to the three major border crossings of Bab Al-Hawa, Bab Al-Salameh, and Tal Abyad, STJ found that at least 155,000 were returned to Syria under such circumstances of coercion by Turkish authorities.

According to the report, 100,872 refugees were sent through the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing – the same one officially used for international aid – between 2019 and 2021, 47,310 passed through the Bab Al-Salamah border crossing during the same period, and the Tal Abyad border crossing documented the deportation of 9,344 refugees to Syria between mid-2020 and 2021.

One of the sources interviewed at the border  for the report estimated the number of refugees deported through the Bab Al-Salameh crossing alone to be 400 per month. "The majority are forcibly returned. Over the course of my work, I noticed that barely 25 per cent of the deported people returned voluntarily and because it was what they wanted,"  he said.

The Turkish Embassy in London was contacted for comment, but has not responded to the request.

READ: Turkey opposition will send all refugees home if they come into power, leader says

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