Turkey: Syrian grocers affected by deportation campaign; Most customers stock up for Europe route

Syrian food products on the shelves of a grocery store in the European side of Istanbul, Turkey - December 28, 2022 (Enab Baladi/Hussam al-Mahmoud)

Syrian food products on the shelves of a grocery store in the European side of Istanbul, Turkey - December 28, 2022 (Enab Baladi/Hussam al-Mahmoud)


Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli

On the corner of a side street in a popular neighborhood in the Sefaköy area in the Turkish state of Istanbul, 35-year-old Mahmoud sits waiting for a Syrian customer who informed him that he is coming to buy some necessary grocery items from his grocery store that he needs on his journey through smuggling lines towards Europe.

Mahmoud expressed his fears about the significant decrease in the number of customers in the area, which is usually crowded with Syrians, as a result of the massive deportations in Istanbul, where Syrians prefer to reside.

Syrian groceries spread where Syrians exist

Ten meters away, on the road leading up from Mahmoud’s grocery store, another Syrian grocer named Abdul-Qader, who hails from the city of al-Bab, east of Aleppo, seems to have fuller shelves of goods, but his fears are not much different from his neighbor’s.

Abdul-Qader told Enab Baladi that he chose this area because most Syrians are concentrated near it, and of course, the Turks do not buy from Syrian groceries, especially since their basic materials are available in shopping centers.

With the intensification of the restrictions on Syrians, Abdul-Qader and his neighbor Mahmoud noticed that the movement of Syrians, even in the popular street, had become less, and the matter was reflected in the turnout and numbers of customers.

For Abdul-Qader, the decrease in the number of Syrians in the streets means the cessation of work, as it is likely that he will close his shop if the situation continues as it is for more months.

A research study by political economy researcher Nihat Ali Özcan, published by the Turkish newspaper Milliyet, showed that the Syrians shop among themselves without communicating with the Turks due to the state of dissatisfaction among the Turks with living with the Syrians, which has spread through social media.

This situation resulted in the formation of ghettos called “post-war Syria” in areas of Istanbul, where “harmonious” relations prevail between Syrians due to living conditions.

Work is limited to “irregular migrants”

Mahmoud, a Syrian grocer who has been living in the Sefaköy district for eight years, and the opening of his shop dates back to more than three years, during which there were periods of decline in work. However, this decline was not frightening during the previous periods, and it now seems that it will not improve.

He added to Enab Baladi that for more than 15 days, the sale was limited to young people who wanted to seek refuge in Europe, but he preferred to say they are fleeing rather than seeking a refuge. “They fled the war, and now they are fleeing the security restrictions in Turkey.”

Nowadays, our work is limited to those who wish to leave for Europe, as they pack some canned food in their bags to be consumed during their bumpy journey to Europe.

Mahmoud – a Syrian grocer based in Istanbul

Young men need a few packs of canned meat and tuna, according to Mahmoud. Some of them prefer to take some sweet foods, as they are convinced that it will give them some energy to walk long distances.

The Syrian grocer continued that dates are one of the basic products that travelers prefer, as he buys them weekly to meet the needs of his traveling customers, unlike the previous period when demand for them was limited to the month of Ramadan.

Young people who are residents of Sefaköy seeking to leave Turkey buy their necessities for the road more than once, as rarely one of them crosses borders the first time, according to Mahmoud, who told the story of one of his customers, as the customer bought necessities for the road more than seven times, but it is clear that he made it through because he never came back.

Mahmoud, who has an Istanbul-issued Temporary Protection Identification Document, known as Kimlik, is envious of his acquaintances who crossed to Europe, as he suffers, like others, harassment as a result of the latest security campaign, but he is unable to leave because he is the head of his family who lives with him in the same area.

Shops closed

On the same street where we met Mahmoud and Abdul-Qader, there was a third shop that closed after sales declined, coinciding with the rise in living costs.

Another shop owner, who is in his forties and declined to be named for security concerns, told Enab Baladi that the problem did not come to him alone, as the owner of the property in which he is renting his shop demanded additional fees beyond his ability.

The grocer moved his work within the same area, as he cannot move to the city center of Istanbul because the shop fees there are more expensive, and the restrictions imposed by the law on the places of residence of Syrians make things more difficult, according to what he told Enab Baladi.

The man believes that the days of the Syrians in Turkey “have ended” as the authorities continue to impose legal and security restrictions on the lives of the refugees with no hope of improvement.

Deportation campaign against refugees

In light of the security campaign launched by the Turkish authorities to pursue “illegal immigrants,” some Syrians who reside in Turkey, legally or illegally, live in fear of internal or external deportation.

On July 26, the Turkish Minister of Interior, Ali Yerlikaya, said that the Turkish state, since the start of the latest campaign, has instructed all elements of the Turkish police and gendarmerie to crack down on illegal immigrants.

The Turkish minister added, during an interview on the Turkish “A Haber” channel, that illegal immigration is a “global problem” resulting from “wars, terrorism and regional reasons” and other circumstances.

He continued, “In the past, people used to go to Europe via Turkey, but now, due to our economic development, Turkey has become a country that is a target for immigration.”

Commenting on the process of returning refugees, the Minister of Interior affirmed that it is proceeding “voluntarily and safely, and not through humiliation or coercion.”

At the beginning of the same month, Yerlikaya said that his country had arrested 15,000 “illegal migrants” during June and deported some of them without specifying their nationalities.

The minister added that the ministry has deported 6,883 of the “illegal” immigrants who were arrested, and preparations are continuing to deport the others.

At least 3.3 million Syrian refugees reside in Turkey under temporary protection documents, according to the latest August statistics of the Presidency of Migration Management (PMM).

On October 24, 2022, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Turkish authorities had arbitrarily arrested, detained, and deported hundreds of Syrian men and boys refugees to Syria between February and July of the same year, which the PMM considered as “misleading.”



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