Syrians at Greece border; “remarkable” changes by Turkish authorities
Enab Baladi – Diya Assi
The migration path has witnessed an unprecedented turn on the Turkish side since the beginning of last September in dealing with refugees seeking to reach Europe by land through the border line separating Greece.
This coincided with the launch of calls to organize a campaign of mass migration to Europe called the “Caravan of Light.” The organizers of this campaign launched on the Telegram messenger application that included nearly 85,000 members, with the aim of mobilizing the largest number of Syrians wishing to leave Turkey.
Although this campaign failed, it returned with negative results, which were reflected in the migration attempts that followed it, amid a large wave of migration from Turkey to Europe, following the escalation of hate speech against the Syrians and the increase in restrictions on them through government measures.
In a cautionary statement, The Syrian-Turkish Joint Committee warned the Syrians against the incitement rhetoric and the means that call on them not to abide by the law, considering the calls to organize the convoy journey as a reason to create chaos and harm for everyone.
For her part, Inas Najjar, the committee’s communications director, told Enab Baladi that the ill-conceived invitations do not provide a solution or positive results, as the committee evaluated the invitations to participate in the convoy with the Turkish side and concluded that the results would be largely negative for Syrians.
The Turkish border guards (Gendarmerie) adopted another method in dealing with migrants, represented by detaining and forcibly deporting them upon their return or during their crossing to Greece, after the convoy was highlighted by the media and human rights organizations, according to what was monitored by Enab Baladi.
Before the date of the convoy, the “Gendarmerie” used to meet the returnees from Greece with good treatment by lighting a fire to keep them warm and providing shoes after they were subjected to abuses by the Greek authorities, who sometimes returned them barefoot or naked.
Youssef and Ahmed, brothers in their twenties from Raqqa, northeastern Syria, came to Turkey on 30 August from the border city of Tel Abyad, north of Raqqa, to the city of Urfa, southeastern Turkey, and from there to Istanbul.
A few days after their arrival in Istanbul, on 2 September, which is the starting point for the border city of Edirne, they made their first attempt to enter Greece illegally.
When they reached the Evros River border, 530 kilometers long, 230 kilometers of which constitute the only joint land border with Greece, they were surprised by the Turkish border guards (Gendarmerie) behind them.
The two brothers told Enab Baladi that the guards spoke with them to take them to a safer crossing point, according to the description of the “Gendarmerie,” and dropped them off a few kilometers away, where they were preparing to cross the river.
The brothers and their group of 14 people did not wait for a few minutes until the guards returned to take them to the Edirne camp in a “dazed” state. Then they directed them to the Bab al-Salama border crossing with Turkey on 8 September, after a day in detention.
According to the two brothers’ account, the guards forced all those with them to sign papers whose contents they did not know, only to discover later that they were “voluntary return” documents, which legitimized their deportation to Syria without their consent.
Youssef and Ahmed did not know anything of the Turkish language to realize what they were facing, despite their request to obtain a temporary protection document (Kimilk), but the guards “did not care about them,” according to their words.
The Turkish police arrested two groups of Syrians on 12 October while they were waiting for the smugglers’ cars in a house in Küçükçekmece district in Istanbul.
According to what one of the migrants said on a Facebook group, the police raided the house, took all those present to prison, and then to the foreigners’ detention center in Tuzla, and then sent them to the city of Niğde in southeastern Turkey, which is a distance away from Istanbul about 800 kilometers.
The owner of the post, whose name did not appear, confirmed that one of his friends, in addition to everyone who did not have a “kimlik,” was deported to Syria while the rest were released.
In the last two months, many similar publications have proliferated, whose owners reported their stories of deportation without prior notice.
Enab Baladi counted the number of deportees from the Bab al-Hawa border crossing from the beginning of 2022 until the end of October, and their number reached 16,173 people, while the number of people coming to Syria from the same crossing was 87, 696 people in the same period.
Mazen Alloush, director of the media office of the Bab al-Hawa crossing, told Enab Baladi that the Turkish authorities are forcing all returnees to sign “voluntary return” papers, whether they are voluntary or forced returnees.
On the other hand, the crossing administration classifies all those who signed these papers as “deportees” from Turkey.
The ordinary travelers, who are the largest number, are classified as “arrivals,” and they are among the segments that are allowed to cross, and they hold licenses for that, such as merchants, doctors, and organization employees, according to Alloush.
The number of Syrians holding the temporary protection card (Kimlik) has decreased in four months by about 105,778 people.
In May, the number of Syrian refugees reached 3,761,267 Syrian refugees, accompanying Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement about his country’s project to return one million refugees.
The latest statistics issued by the General Presidency of Turkish Immigration on 27 October documented the presence of 3,611,143 Syrian refugees out of 3,655,489 people last September.
Violations, Turkey is not safe
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on 24 October that Turkish authorities arbitrarily arrested, detained, and deported hundreds of Syrian refugee men and boys to Syria between February and July 2022.
“Deported Syrians said that Turkish officials arrested them in their homes, workplaces, and on the street, detained them in poor conditions, beat and abused most of them, forced them to sign voluntary return forms, drove them to border crossing points with northern Syria, and forced them across at gunpoint,” according to the HRW.
“In violation of international law, Turkish authorities have rounded up hundreds of Syrian refugees, even unaccompanied children, and forced them back to northern Syria,” said Nadia Hardman, refugee and migrant rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Although Turkey provided temporary protection to 3.6 million Syrian refugees, it now looks like Turkey is trying to make northern Syria a refugee dumping ground.”
Hardman added that the classification of Turkey as a “safe third country” is not consistent with the volume of deportations of Syrian refugees to northern Syria and that member states “should not adopt this classification, and they should focus on relocating asylum seekers by increasing the numbers of resettlement.”
For his part, Savaş Ünlü, head of the General Directorate of Immigration Management, in a letter addressed to the HRW, rejected the organization’s findings, describing the allegations as baseless, and said that his country “manages migration in line with domestic and international law.”
The Turkish Immigration Presidency confirmed on 27 October that Syria is currently considered one of the countries to which the “principle of non-refoulement” applies, noting that the Syrians who returned to it did so “voluntarily,” according to the Turkish TRT channel.
Turkey is a country obligated by treaty and customary international law to respect the “principle of non-refoulement,” which prohibits the return of anyone to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture, or a threat to life.
Turkey has already “forcibly” deported Syrian refugees despite their possession of identity papers.
However, Turkey returned a large part of refugees during different periods of time after the spread of video recordings of the deported refugees proving that they had official papers.
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