Syrian men returned from Turkey to Idlib Province in northwest Syria (AFP)

Turkey has been deporting Syrian refugees for months, ahead of the occupation of part of northeast Syria after a two-week offensive, according to Amnesty International.

The deportations were reported this summer, including with Syrian men who claimed they had been seized and taken across the border.

See Syria Daily, August 1: Is Turkey Deporting Syrian Refugees?

Amnesty supports the claims with a report based on interviews with refugees who say they were beaten and threatened into signing documents by Turkish police.

Anna Shea, an Amnesty researcher on refugee and migrant rights, summarizes:

Turkey’s claim that refugees from Syria are choosing to walk straight back into the conflict is dangerous and dishonest. Rather, our research shows that people are being tricked or forced into returning.

Turkey deserves recognition for hosting more than 3.6 million women, men and children from Syria for over eight years, but it cannot use this generosity as an excuse to flout international and domestic law by deporting people to an active conflict zone.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that Ankara intends to move up to 2 million of the 3.6 million refugees into a “safe zone” under its control in northeast Syria. Turkey envisages control of a 480-km (270-mile) long and 30-km (19-mile) deep area across the Kurdish cantons of Kobani and Cezire.

Turkish troops and Syrian rebels crossed the border on October 9, attacking near the towns of Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad. On October 17, the US — which had been allied with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces but has now withdrawn its troops from the northeast — supported Turkey’s demand for the departure of the Kurdish militia YPG, and on Tuesday, Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on joint military oversight of the “safe zone”.

See Syria Daily, Oct 23: Turkey and Russia Agree Joint Control of Northeast

Amnesty says it is difficult to establish the number of forced deportation, but estimates that hundreds have been coerced into transfers into Syria. Turkish officials claim that more than 315,000 Syrians have voluntarily returned over several years.

Prison or Return to Syria

Through its interviews, Amnesty said it documented 20 forced deportations between May 25 and September 13, with movement on buses filled with dozens of others who were handcuffed with plastic ties.

The large majority of deportees are men, but some were juveniles or families. They were taken to Idlib Province in northwest Syria, outside the declared “safe zone”.

The deportees were usually told that they are unregistered, even if they provided valid IDs, or outside their province of registration.

A 39-year-old father from Aleppo,said he was detained in a police station for six days, where he was told: “You have a choice: one or two months, or a year, in prison – or you go to Syria.”

A Syrian Christian man said he was warned, “If you ask for a lawyer we will keep you six or seven months and we will hurt you.” He claims that, after crossing the border into the northwest, he was held for a week by the hardline Islamist bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.

A 23-year-old man from Aleppo said he was deported from Istanbul alongside teenagers aged 15 and 16 who were unregistered refugees. According to the man, mothers pleaded with the authorities outside the bus, but military police said the boys were breaking the law because they had no IDs.

A father of eight explains:

I felt like I was between heaven and hell. I just wanted to arrive somewhere. I was just waiting for it to end.

Imagine spending 26 hours on a bus, with just one glass of water and half a sandwich. And every two hours the (police officers) would come to hit us and wake us up.