Syrian men returned from Turkey to Idlib Province in northwest Syria

Turkey’s officials have denied multiple reports that they are deporting some of the 3.6 million Syrians in the country.

Refugees, activists, and human rights organizations say that, with anti-Syrian sentiment rising in parts of Turkey, authorities are sending the displaced back to uncertainty in opposition-held northwest Syria.

One refugee, in Turkey since 2013 and undergoing medical treatment for a liver condition suffered from torture by the Assad regime, said he was on his way to renew documents when he was stopped at a police checkpoint. When “Hassan” said he had no ID, he was detained and sent across the border to Idlib Province four days later.

A real estate worker, Abu Ahmad, was stopped by police in Istanbul over an expired travel permit. Despite his ID, a temporary protection document, he was put on a bus with 50 other men and deported through the Bab al-Hawa crossing.

Four other refugees told Reuters that they had been forcibly returned in the past week.

Human Rights Watch summarized other cases last week, including a July 17 convoy of 20 buses taking men back to Syria. Gerry Simpson, HRW’s Emergencies Director, said Turkish authorities are “threatening to lock them up until they agree to return, forcing them to sign forms, and dumping them in a war zone — [this] is neither voluntary nor legal”.

The accounts come amid unrest in some Turkish districts with concentrations of refugees. There have been fights, and more than 80% of respondents said in a July poll that hosting refugees is not the government’s responsibility and all 3.6 million should be repatriated.

On July 22, the Istanbul municipality declared a four-week deadline, for Syrians in the city but registered elsewhere in Turkey, to return to official areas of residence or face forced removal. Offficials said that while 547,000 Syrians are registered in Istanbul, there are between 600,000 and 900,000 in Turkey’s largest city.

Istanbul security forces then increased identification checkpoints and detained Syrians without documents. Refugees said they were held until they signed “voluntary return” forms and were transferred to Idlib Province.

Checkpoints have also been set up in Turkey’s southern provinces along the Syrian border.

Turkish Denials

On Sunday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu denied the accounts:

This issue only concerns irregular and illegal migration.

It is out of the question and not acceptable for Syrian people who are under temporary protection, foreigners that are granted international protection status or people who have residence permits in our country to be deported.

Abdullah Ayaz, head of the Interior Ministry’s migration department, restated the line on Tuesday, “It’s not legally possible to take the decision to deport Syrians due to the current situation in Syria.”

He said that Syrians in Istanbul are being moved to cities where they are registered and that unregistered Syrians are being held in camps inside Turkey until registration is completed.