Hassan Ibrahim | Hussam al-Mahmoud | Khaled al-Jeratli
Syrian refugees in Turkey monitored the results of May’s two-round Turkish presidential elections in a pursuit to escape the fears they had as a result of the hate speeches and electoral promises of refugee deportation by the opposition, which placed the issue of their existence at the center of its concerns.
However, what followed the elections did not end those fears as much as it fueled them, especially with changes in the government, which included the Ministry of the Interior, and institutions concerned with the file of refugees and immigrants in general, most notably the Presidency of Migration Management (PMM).
These changes were followed by an official campaign announced by the Turkish Minister of Interior, Ali Yerlikaya, to combat illegal immigration in the country. One of the results of that campaign was the deportation of hundreds of Syrians from several Turkish provinces to northwestern Syria, despite their possession of the Temporary Protection Identification Document, known as “Kimlik.”
In this weekly file, Enab Baladi discusses with specialized, concerned, and legal researchers the cases of harassment that Syrians in Turkey live in and the Turkish internal policy regarding the file as a whole.
Enab Baladi also discusses the role of the “Kimlik” in controlling their life conditions, along with the conditions of those who were deported to the economically depleted Syrian north, and trying to identify the parties concerned with defending Syrians and their rights in their country of asylum.
Before and after elections; Continuous restrictions
On July 9, the Turkish Minister of Interior, Ali Yerlikaya, said that he had issued instructions regarding the pursuit of irregular migrants who reside illegally throughout the country, not only in Istanbul.
He also explained during a press interview at the time that the police, gendarmerie, and coast guard teams are participating in the campaign to arrest irregular migrants.
This campaign coincides with official Turkish pledges to significantly reduce the number of irregular migrants in all states over a period of four to five months.
While the campaign continued, particularly in its infancy, activists and Turkish media circulated video recordings that showed uncontrolled cases of dealing with refugees.
These were followed by statements by the same minister on July 26, during which he confirmed that the Turkish state, since the start of the latest campaign, had instructed all police and military forces to crack down on “illegal” migrants.
Commenting on the process of returning refugees, the Minister of Interior affirmed that it is proceeding voluntarily and safely and not through humiliation and coercion, indicating that the number of illegal immigrants in Turkey has reached about 4.9 million people, all of whom have addresses that are restricted and clear to the state regarding entry, residence, and exit, while the number of Syrian refugees who obtained temporary protection documents has reached 3,325,016 refugees.
For his part, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on July 13 for the need not to confuse illegal immigrants with refugees in Turkey, stressing that Turkish citizens will feel the obvious changes in the issue of illegal immigrants in a short time.
The issue of harassment of Syrians is not a result of the past months in Turkey. In addition to the hate speech and discrimination that has been going on for years, and the incidents of violence that come as a result and response to inciting political discourse against their presence by some opposition politicians, since 2016, Syrians have been prevented from leaving the states in which they are registered to another state without obtaining a travel permit issued by the Presidency of Migration Management (PMM).
The Turkish Ministry of Interior announced, in February 2022, the establishment of a new mechanism in which it imposed restrictions on the residency of Syrians registered inside Turkey under the “temporary protection” clause, with the aim of controlling overcrowding areas and the demographics of about 800 neighborhoods in 52 states, so that the percentage of foreigners in the neighborhood does not exceed 25% of the population.
The Syrians who were residing in the states hit by the Feb.6 earthquake and who left for other states need a travel permit from the PMM for a period of three months.
However, the approval is granted to the owners of homes classified under the “severely affected” category while maintaining the condition of assessing the damaged houses after the PMM resumed granting travel permission for the third time on July 28, since the earthquake.
Refugees; “Guests” on Turkish table
The Presidency of Migration Management (PMM) has defined the “temporary protection” law, under which Syrians live in Turkey, as a form of “protection” developed by Turkey to find immediate solutions in cases of a mass influx of refugees.
The name of the law shows that it is mainly based on the protection of refugees residing in the country, and the legalization of their lives, as it carries provisions that aim in this direction, most notably “non-refoulement,” which is the most prominent clause that has been repeatedly violated for more than a year.
With more than ten years since the Syrians resided in Turkey under “temporary protection,” the law is still unclear and marred by many violations that its defenders classify as “individual mistakes.”
“Kimlik” away from government papers
Some fragile legal points in the “temporary protection” system in Turkey facilitated mistakes that led to deportation for some people, despite the existence of a threat to their lives in the place to which they are to be deported, according to a number of cases documented by Enab Baladi over the past months, including the case of journalist Khaled al-Homsi, who was deported to Syria despite submitting proofs that he had been subjected to assassination attempts in the area to which he was to be deported.
Among the practices facilitated by loopholes in the law is that the employee has the right to cancel the protection of any Syrian refugee, because of the employee’s assessment of a certain part, without referring the case to a court that decides whether the protection should be revoked or not.
Turkish legal expert Halim Yilmaz, who is among the group participating in the preparatory work for the “Foreigners and International Protection Law” in Turkey, told Enab Baladi that the Kimlik law is a status that is granted “collectively” by the Council of Ministers or the President of the Republic in the event of mass immigration, according to the Foreigners and International Protection Law No. 6458 in the Turkish legal legislation, it is a form of “international protection.”
He added that this law usually lasts for a short period of not more than three years, as it is a “temporary” protection for people who have been displaced due to “exceptional” circumstances in their countries of origin and given the “exceptional” description, this means that it will end within a short period that can be limited to six months, for example, or a few years at most, according to Yilmaz.
The Turkish expert said that until now, the period of validity of the “temporary protection” in Turkey has reached exactly ten years legally, but it is not clear how long it will extend.
Although permanent solutions are not on the table today, Yilmaz believes that the Turkish government is working to provide a permanent solution for refugees in the country by granting them Turkish citizenship, but of course, this procedure cannot be applied to everyone.
For most Syrians in the country, there are no proposed solutions to their legal status, and a solution must be provided for them as well, and of course, this solution does not necessarily have to be “citizenship,” and it may be in the form of “international protection” or “voluntary” return to their country, in case the reasons that led to displacement disappeared, according to the Turkish jurist.
When we say (temporary protection), two words expressing a temporary, short-term situation are misunderstood, and they are reflected in a long-term situation that contradicts the legal term.
Halim Yilmaz – Turkish Legal Expert
A law that measures the interests of one party
The decisions issued by the Turkish government regarding the Syrian refugee file were limited to taking into account the political discourse that exploits them in the country without considering the refugee’s own interest in this decision.
The Syrian-Turkish politician and member of the Turkish opposition “Future” Party, Khaled Khoja, told Enab Baladi that dealing with the law unilaterally is due to the fact that the refugee has no one to protect him, given that the United Nations offices in Turkey no longer care about the situation of Syrians, and their activities are concentrated on the conditions of refugees of other nationalities.
Khoja believes that the United Nations dropping of the Syrian file was at the request of Turkey, which means that the Syrian file was transferred from the United Nations to the Turkish Migration Department, and the latter dealt with the issue unilaterally.
He added that procedural dealings are completely different from dealings according to official papers, as this can be monitored through several cases, bearing in mind that the law certainly prohibits any racist behavior or based on a personal position, but the reason for these violations lies in the fact that there is no reference or authority higher than the employee who constantly interviews refugees.
In the event that these violations reach a higher authority or reference, they face a state of complete denial until they have turned into a “general culture” that stipulates that Syrians will not be accepted.
In October 2022, the Turkish Presidency of Migration Management (PMM) denied what it called the “allegations” of Human Rights Watch (HRW) regarding the arbitrary arrest, detention, and deportation of hundreds of Syrian refugees to Syria.
The PMM statement stated that as part of the “voluntary return” procedures, the Syrians sign the “voluntary return” forms in the presence of a witness, and the foreigners are directed to the border gates from which they want to exit.
Yilmaz told Enab Baladi that Turkey’s restriction of Syrians’ travel within the country, for example, is considered a controversial matter, as it violates Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which stipulates freedom of travel for individuals residing in the country.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 12):
-Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence.
-Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own.
-The above-mentioned rights shall not be subject to any restrictions except those which are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order (ordre public), public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others, and are consistent with the other rights recognized in the present Covenant.
-No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.
The Turkish jurist referred to some cases that may restrict the rights of some individuals on the basis of “protecting public order.” Meanwhile, Yilmaz believes that the main problem in this regard, and according to Article 13 of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, is that “Fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals can only be restricted by law regardless of whether they are aliens, refugees or immigrants….”
In view of the inconsistency of the aforementioned laws, the ban on intercity travel by the PMM and the Ministry of Interior “lacks a legal basis,” which actually poses a “serious” problem for the current legislation in Turkey, according to Yilmaz.
The main problem in Turkey is that bans and restrictions are carried out through circulars and regulations without legal support, which poses a serious problem with the basic rights and freedoms of individuals.
Halim Yilmaz – Turkish Legal Expert
Since the beginning of the arrival of Syrians to Turkey in 2011, the Turkish government has recognized them as a collective influx of refugees, and not just as individual refugees, and classified them as “guests.” However, this description did not fit the provisions of Turkish or international law to conduct their transactions and presence.
The Turkish legal expert, who is familiar with the details of the “international protection” and “temporary” laws in Turkey, said that the stage that followed the reception of the refugees was exposed to a relative “legal gap.”
In April 2013, Turkey passed a “temporary protection” law to manage the refugee file, which would have been reasonable at that time if the situation had continued for a short time while preventing the forced return of refugees from Turkey, according to Yilmaz.
With the extension of the “temporary protection” period for more than ten years, the Syrians have turned into a subject of Turkish internal politics and have become vulnerable to “racist hate” crimes, according to the Turkish expert.
He explained that misunderstanding and misinformation make Syrians a target, with “temporary protection” not providing a permanent solution. At the same time, he ruled out a more feasible solution in the near term than “temporary protection.”
Who defends the Syrian refugees in Turkey?
In light of the ongoing problems and suffering that Syrians face in their countries of asylum, questions are raised about the parties, institutions, or organizations that are supposed to defend their rights.
In the absence of a unified, frank, and consistent position on the state of restrictions that Syrians are subjected to in Turkey, Enab Baladi wrote to the head of the Syrian Interim Government (SIG), Abdulrahman Mustafa, on August 2.
Enab Baladi asked him two questions about the authorities concerned with defending the rights of Syrians in the face of deportations that take place outside the legal frameworks from Turkey, the role assigned to the Interim Government, and whether there are any future steps in this regard, but it did not receive a response until the publication of this file.
European and American position
At the same time, Luis Miguel Bueno, EU Arabic Spokesperson for the Middle East and North Africa, refused to comment on the situation of Syrians in Turkey, explaining that the Union’s position on the return of refugees to Syria has not changed.
The spokesman told Enab Baladi that the conditions for the return of Syrian refugees, as set by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), are not currently met.
He also stressed that the European Union will not support organized returns to Syria unless there are reliable guarantees that these returns are voluntary and under the supervision of the international community.
In all discussions of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs of the Union, Josep Borrell, with the relevant partners, he raised the issue of forced return and received assurances that refugees would not be forcibly returned to Syria until these conditions were met.
Luis Miguel Bueno, EU Arabic Spokesperson for the Middle East and North Africa
Despite the absence of a European declaration regarding the return of refugees from Turkey to Syria, the European Parliament held, on July 12, a vote in which the majority of votes supported keeping the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, which was met with angry reactions by Lebanese officials at the time, as the Lebanese Foreign Minister, Abdullah Bou Habib, sent a letter to Josep Borrell, to denounce the decision.
On August 2, the US State Department spokesperson, Matthew Miller, commented on the “voluntary return” project for one million Syrian refugees from Turkey to northwestern Syria.
“We encourage all parties to act in a way that promotes peaceful coexistence and respect for human rights,” he said in a press briefing, stressing at the same time that the return to Syria of any refugee should be voluntary, safe, dignified, sustainable, and coordinated with UNHCR.
Miller also affirmed that his country does not oppose individual voluntary return, ruling out that the current conditions allow for a large-scale return, “We do not oppose individual voluntary return, but conditions in Syria do not allow an organized return on a large scale.”
A “Problematic” situation
The former head of the opposition’s Syrian National Coalition, Khaled Khoja, considered that the issue of protecting and defending refugees faces problems, including the European and international sufficiency in financial support for Turkey, to bear the burden of managing the refugee file, without following up on the issue or the violations.
Also, the local authorities in Turkey, and despite the existence of legal cases and lawsuits filed against these violations by Turkish human rights organizations, they delay in deciding on these cases.
Enas Najjar, Director of Communications in the Syrian-Turkish Joint Committee, told Enab Baladi that the issues and problems that Syrians face in Turkey need intervention from more than one party to solve them, adding that the problem of racism requires individual, institutional, and social responsibility, and must be approached according to the law and within courts.
As for deportation, the entities authorized to deal with the file are the ones that address the Turkish government, Turkish officials, civil society organizations, and legal institutions in Turkey, according to her.
Regarding the role that the committee is currently playing in this regard, Najjar indicated that there are a number of cases that must be subject to legal settlements rather than deportation, such as cases in which the refugee has a court hearing or has a “violation code,” stressing the need to transfer these cases to the courts, not immediate deportation.
Najjar said that she contacted the Syrian media outlets in Turkey to obtain information about deported persons despite having legal papers, but she did not reach cases of this kind.
She considered that those who are being deported have legal problems, but they were deported before being brought before the court, which means that there is an illegal reason,” Najjar added.
“Perhaps someone used a mobile phone line registered in the name of the refugee, or the refugee has a lawsuit or otherwise, yet deportation before being presented to the court is an unlawful method,” Najjar added.
Crossings receive deportees, Exhausted North
The border crossings with Turkey witness a daily movement of forcibly deported Syrians from the Bab al-Hawa, Bab al-Salama, and Tal Abyad crossings.
The director of the Tal Abyad border crossing, Fayez al-Qatea’, told Enab Baladi that during last July, 1,830 Syrians returned from the crossing, including 1,220 deportees.
The director of the media office of the Bab al-Hawa crossing, Mazen Alloush, told Enab Baladi that the month of July witnessed deportations through the crossing of 1,207 people, about 50 of whom were arrested while trying to enter Turkey in an “irregular” manner.
Alloush explained that more than 1,150 of them fingerprinted the voluntary return papers, and mostly “involuntarily” by forcing them to sign the return paper.
Some crossings’ administrations, including Bab al-Salama, reserve the terms “deportation” or “forcible return,” and the deportees are included under the item “voluntary returnees,” despite the fact that the Turkish authorities took these people and handed them over to the crossing authorities.
The statistics of “voluntary returnees” during July included 2,236 people from Bab al-Salama. A source from the crossing, who asked not to be named, said that more than 1,600 of them were forcibly deported, but with their fingerprints on “voluntary return” papers.
Narrow options and risky “smuggling”
On August 2, Mohammad Khalil, 23, arrived in Idlib via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, accompanied by about 25 Syrians, 14 of whom have identification papers from different states, after they were fingerprinted on “voluntary return” papers, although they did not want to do so, according to the young man.
The young man told Enab Baladi that he has no choice but to try to return to Turkey through “irregular” roads that carry the risks of death in order to work and support his family of seven, who live in a camp north of Maarat Misrin in rural Idlib.
He pointed out that the only source of income for his family ranges between 2,000 and 2,500 Turkish liras, which he sends from his monthly pension by working in a laundry.
Northwestern Syria suffers from a deterioration in the living and economic conditions within a region that includes 4.5 million people, 4.1 million of whom need assistance, and 3.3 million of them suffer from food insecurity.
Mohammad al-Othman, 22, from the town of al-Sabha, east of Deir Ezzor, was subjected to two deportations from Turkey to northern Syria in 2022, the first from the Bab al-Hawa crossing and reached Idlib, and entered through a “smuggler” to Manbij, which is under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and then to Deir Ezzor, with 300 US dollars, because the “smuggler” asked him for 3,000 dollars in order to enter through the areas of Idlib to Turkey.
In the al-Jazrat area, west of Deir Ezzor, “smugglers” received the young man, Mohammad, and took him back to Tal Abyad, where he was received by another “smuggler” who asked him for $150 in exchange for his admission to Turkey.
The young man paid the amount and arrived in the Pendik area on the Asian side of Istanbul, where he works in a car wash there, but the police arrested him a month later and returned him to Tal Abyad, then he decided to return to Deir Ezzor and also arrived through “smugglers.”
The young man described the conditions of his detention in Tuzla for several days as “bad and humiliating” and the condition of the roads and the smuggling operations he engaged in as “death ways.”
When he returned to Deir Ezzor, he and other young men were shot by a patrol of the SDF in the Sabah al-Khair area, separating the areas controlled by the Syrian National Army (SNA) and SDF. He was detained for four days under investigation in al-Kasra prison, after which he was released.
Turkish sphere of influence; Management and subordination
The regions of northwestern Syria, which are considered the destination of the deportees, are run by the Syrian Interim Government (SIG), the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), and the Syrian National Army (SNA) factions, with which Turkey carried out three military operations inside Syria against the SDF.
Turkey has 125 military sites in the region, of which 57 are in the countryside of Aleppo, 51 in the regions of Idlib, ten in Raqqa, four in al-Hasakah, two in the countryside of Latakia, and another in the countryside of Hama, according to the Jusoor Studies Center.
On the service level, the Turkish authorities have worked to manage the economic and service life in the countryside of Aleppo by forming local councils linked to the states of Gaziantep, Hatay, and Kilis and have contributed with the local authorities to create industrial sites and service projects.
Turkish governors also make strategic decisions regarding projects, hospitals, the judiciary, trade, industry, and agreements while leaving the margins of internal service decisions to local councils.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) controls Idlib, the border province with Turkey, without tangible or declared clashes between the two parties, with the distribution of Turkish military points in the region.
Turkey is a guarantor of the cease-fire in the “Astana” negotiations (the guarantors are Turkey, Russia, and Iran) and a party to the “Moscow” agreement signed in March 2020 between Turkey and Russia, which provided for a cease-fire along the front line between the regime and the opposition in northern Syria.
Bombing does not stop
The state of security instability and the large number of violations and fighting are present in northwestern Syria, with clashes near the various lines of contact, and the countryside of Aleppo, Ras al-Ain, and Tal Abyad being bombarded from areas controlled by the regime and the SDF.
Mutual incursions and infiltrations also take place, while Idlib and its countryside witness an almost daily bombardment by the regime, interspersed with intermittent Russian raids.
In the latest statistics obtained by the Syria Civil Defense (SCD) agency to Enab Baladi, its teams responded to 390 attacks from the beginning of this year until July 25, launched by the regime forces and Russia, and others from areas of joint control of the regime forces and the SDF, in addition to drone attacks and explosions.
What is Turkey’s responsibility?
The Turkish presence in the region did not negate the state of hostility, lack of harmony, and factional rivalry between the “National Army” and “Tahrir al-Sham,” which seeks to expand its influence in the countryside of Aleppo. Its military convoys marched twice towards Afrin, entered it, and then withdrew.
There is also competition between the factions of the National Army, some of which are accused of committing violations for which there is no accountability, such as the case of the assassination of a media activist in the city of al-Bab in the countryside of Aleppo, and the trial of the leader “Abu Amsha,” which was not implemented.
Fadel Khanji, a research assistant at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, told Enab Baladi that factional rivalry is one of the features that existed throughout the years of the conflict and is not a feature specific to the areas controlled by the “National Army.”
He considered that increasing security efficiency and security stability in these areas requires the development of mechanisms to monopolize violence by a central authority and the development of effective monitoring mechanisms at the same time.
Khanji believes that despite the existence of many administrative and service problems, the health and educational situation in the eastern and northern countryside of Aleppo, Tal Abyad, and Ras al-Ain is better compared to other areas of influence and better than it was years ago, especially with the opening of Turkish universities and hospitals in the region.
It is difficult to develop an advanced institutional structure in the short term in northern Syria, given that the local governance model is newly established, and the region is part of a frozen map of influence whose stability is linked to the understandings of regional and international actors.
Fadel Khanji is a research assistant at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies
An officer in the “police” forces in the city of al-Bab (who asked not to be named) considered that the Turkish authorities are directly responsible for controlling security in the area, pointing out that they grant only a few powers to the security personnel and forces to control violations and abuses.
Dr. Bassem Hatahet, an expert in governance and civil society organizations, told Enab Baladi that the Turkish official institutions have a prominent role in supervising the enforcement of governance (systems of laws and regulations) and not the enforcement of a faction.
He pointed out that the problem with what is happening is supervision without cooperation and that the principle is that there should be supervision with cooperation, that is, a “joint systematic strategy.”
Hatahet pointed to a group of points that define the Turkish role in northern Syria, which is the length of the Turkish border with Syria, which made it a gateway for Syrian refugees, and its legal distance from the issue, and its right to protect its borders at a depth of five kilometers, and to take the necessary measures if its national security is endangered, according to the Adana Treaty of 1998.
When talking about border protection and the existence of “legal” influence, Turkey has the right, according to Hatahet, to help with local authorities or supervise with them the organization of the region within basic rules, which are the organization of the borders, and the management of the region internally through the management of the institutions on which the region is based (Interim Government, local councils, judicial courts, institutions), and supervising the commercial and economic process.
He also made it clear that the Syrian interior has a fundamental problem, which is that the institutions of the former state (which were under the control of the regime) did not remain subordinate to a ruling regime and became subordinate to “Turkish supervision.”
This subordination is not clear-cut because whoever runs the region is a large group of factions, and each region is subject to a specific faction that pressures and imposes its vision on the region in administrative, judicial, and social terms, depending on its orientation.
Dr. Hatahet pointed out that these factions are not based on running the state within the programs for infrastructure, administrative work, and economic needs.
The Turkish state does not use its administrative influence in northwestern Syria but rather on the de facto authorities (factions and local governing councils), and Turkey has so far managed the region not with the systematic administrative frameworks of any country, region, or any area of de facto authority, but rather gives the factions the ability to exist and govern the region.
Dr. Bassem Hatahet – A Researcher and Expert in Governance Affairs
In order for the regions of northwestern Syria to be a “standard buffer Zone,” they need, according to Hatahet, state institutions with good governance for these institutions, including ministries, local councils, and municipalities that manage the operations of services and local administrations, including housing, marriage, divorce, and deaths.
All these departments must be governance platforms that need systems of laws and regulations as a base, and these regulations need an enforcer and the judiciary to protect them.
The governance expert added that Turkey’s role is reflected in the rehabilitation of the de facto authorities, the governance of the institutions of these authorities, and the reliance on security, judicial, social, political, and economic programs, and oversight programs for these institutions that supervise the performance, the cadres of the institutions or the programs themselves that may be incorrect.
In the event that the Turkish state is able to restore the governance of the northwestern region, the refugee file can be dealt with in two basic frameworks, namely the need to reformulate the Turkish Humanitarian Protection Law and that it be compatible with the international humanitarian protection law.
The second framework is after there is governance, and following the reformulation of the concept and governance of the Turkish Humanitarian Protection Law, decisions can be taken in the process of returning refugees and the return of the violator who did not obtain the Kimlik document and whoever wants to return after the region’s governance is controlled (Law, judiciary, police, recognized institutions and curricula) would be allowed to return.
Civil society institutions in the north (unions, local councils, federations, community institutions) must join efforts with the Turkish legal administration in force, and with international humanitarian law and European Union programs, and establish a platform for rehabilitation and governance in the north, and create a ground capable of managing the region within a system of good governance for the infrastructure of any country.
Dr. Bassem Hatahet – A Researcher and Expert in Governance Affairs
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