Syrian refugees fear deportation after Istanbul crackdown

Turkish authorities have increased raids as part of a new policy against refugees, mostly Syrians, in the country’s largest city and business center Istanbul in an attempt to deport undocumented refugees.

Syrian refugees started to arrive in Turkey in 2011 when a civil war broke out in their country between the forces of President Bashar al-Assad and anti-government rebels.

A report by the Independent Turkish service disclosed that officials aim to rid Turkey of some four million Syrians amid reports of rising animosity against them mainly due to the country’s deteriorating economy and rising unemployment, stepping up the raids in Istanbul reportedly over the past 10 days.

The raids on the homes and businesses unofficially estimated to be more than a million Syrian refugees in Istanbul, which are reportedly becoming more and more frequent, are causing widespread fear of deportation among the refugees.

The raids are mostly being carried out in Fatih, Zeytinburnu, Bagcilar, Esenler and Esenyurt districts in Istanbul, where Syrians mostly dwell and work. As a result of the operations, some business owners in these districts fired Syrians working informally.

A news report by Cihat Arpacik from Independent Turkish noted that this problem is a result of Turkey’s seven-year-long policy of temporary protection towards  Syrian refugees.

Amjad Tablieh, an 18-year-old Syrian refugee, was deported after leaving his home in Istanbul to buy goods because he did not have his identity card with him, the New Arab newspaper reported on Sunday.

Although he told them that his family would bring the card within 15 minutes, the policemen reportedly refused to wait and took him to the local Tuzla police station where he was forced to sign some papers unexplained to him.

Tablieh also claimed being beaten and insulted by the police who confiscated his mobile phone, preventing him from contacting his family.

After spending 19 hours traveling on a coach, he and the other refugees on board were shocked to find that they were at the Sadaqah border crossing near the town of Salqin in Syria’s northern Idlib province.

An increasing number of arbitrary deportations led to fear and panic among the Syrians in Istanbul who had to stay in their houses to avoid police checks on their way to work.

Speaking to Independent Turkish, Muhammed Halili, an undocumented Syrian refugee who refused to give his full name, said he is not leaving his house in Istanbul for fear of deportation.

Indicating that he and his family escaped from the harsh conditions of a refugee camp in Hatay, where he applied for temporary asylum, Halili added that he has no one to take care of his wife and two children in the event of his deportation.

Another refugee who cannot leave his house is H. El Sakur, who has been working in a textile factory in Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu district for the past five years.

“My boss told me to get a work permit in order not to get him into trouble. But they don’t issue it in Istanbul anymore. So, it’s impossible for me to work here now. All of a sudden, I’m unemployed, and I don’t know what to do,” Sakur told Independent Turkish.

Adnan, a 27-year-old undocumented refugee in Istanbul told The National daily speaking from his apartment in Esenyurt on Friday that he was not leaving the house that day.

Having arrived in Turkey last July after paying smugglers to get him across the border from northwest Idlib province, Adnan still has not been able to get a temporary protection ID from Turkish authorities, which puts him at risk of arrest.

Stating that although returning to Syria is out of the question, he added that Turkey is feeling less hospitable by the day.

“In Idlib and northern Aleppo, life is impossible. There are weapons everywhere and you can’t work. Turkey wasn’t my choice, but I found myself forced to come here. So I have no choice,” Adnan confessed.

The National also quoted a Syrian factory worker in Istanbul speaking on condition of anonymity saying that more than 50 of his compatriots had not shown up on Tuesday, out of a total workforce of 110.

The report also said that 32-year-old Malik told his wife earlier this week to stop answering the door after hearing stories that the police were looking for Syrians without ID cards and temporary protection papers.

Being registered in a province outside of Istanbul, Malik said he couldn’t get necessary documents for his wife and daughter yet, meaning all three could face arrest.

Although 90 percent of the Syrian refugees in Turkey are registered, they are not allowed to leave the city where they applied for temporary asylum.

However, since they have not been tightly controlled by the government until recently, many refugees registered in other cities were able to come to Istanbul, where there are more opportunities of work and education for them.

Even though official data says the number of Syrian refugees in Istanbul is around 547,000 the actual figure is said to be almost twice as much.

The new government policy, therefore, targets especially those refugees who received temporary asylum in other cities but then came to Istanbul to dwell, work and study.

Many people claim that one of the reasons for the ruling AK Party (AKP)’s defeats in March’s mayoral race and June’s rerun in Istanbul is because of the discomfort felt by the voters due to the increasing number of Syrians in the city.

It is said that therefore Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP has adopted a policy with tighter methods to control the refugees.

Suleyman Soylu, the Ministry of Interior announced earlier this month that Turkish authorities would no longer register Syrians in Istanbul, except in exceptional cases.

Lawyer Ibrahim Ergin, a board member of the International Refugee Rights Association, told Independent Turkish that incidents of inspection on houses and working places of Syrian refugees became more frequent after the March polls, in line with the demand of the voters.

“When a refugee who is not supposed to be in Istanbul [is] arrested there, he should be sent back to the city [in Turkey] where he came from. But most of the time, the refugees are deported back to Syria. These people have to either wait for their death or fight in the war. No one can be forced to participate in a war,” he underlined.

Abdulhalim Yilmaz, a lawyer working on refugee cases told Evrensel daily that Turkish laws regarding deportation were so “flexible” that officials had the freedom to send any refugees outside a city or even deport them.

“However, the lives of refugees must not be under danger in the countries they are being sent to. Countries such as Afghanistan and Syria are in the category of unsafe countries,” Yilmaz added.

Gulseren Yoleri, the Istanbul branch head of the Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD), also underlined that it is unlawful to send refugees back to their countries if there is a possibility of torture or some other life-threatening situation.

“This is banned by both the Geneva Conventions and Turkey’s Law on Foreigners and International Protection (LFIP). It’s an open violation of these laws to send Syrians back to their country where they have no security of life,” she highlighted.

The refugees are reportedly being sent back to opposition-held areas of Idlib and Aleppo in northern Syria.

Idlib has been under assault by the Assad regime since late April, although a ceasefire was signed in September 2018. More than 600 civilians have been killed there and more than 330,000 people have been made homeless due to airstrikes and shelling.

The Istanbul Governor’s Office in a written statement on Monday urged Syrian refugees in Istanbul, who are formally registered in other provinces, to go back to those cities before August 20.

“Those who do not return within the aforementioned period will be sent back to their registered cities in line with the instructions of the Ministry of the Interior,” the governor’s office warned.

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