Syrian refugees endure systematic torture, humiliation by Turkish border guards

A young man was beaten on the Greek-Turkish border while crossing towards Europe (Edited by Enab Baladi)

A young man was beaten on the Greek-Turkish border while crossing towards Europe (Edited by Enab Baladi)


Enab Baladi – Reem Hammoud

“We were beaten by the Turkish border guards, and they insulted our dignity as if we were more like a means of entertainment and not human beings in front of them,” Majed narrates to Enab Baladi the horror of his experience during an attempt to cross into Europe through the land border between Turkey and Greece.

The path that Syrian refugees follow from Turkey to Europe by land “via illegal routes” is witnessing increasing difficulties, which has prompted many to hesitate to repeat their bad experiences in migration.

Majed was not the only one who experienced and witnessed these violations, as hundreds of refugees were subjected to verbal and physical violations upon their return from the forests of Greece and Bulgaria to Turkey.

The refugee’s exposure to these violations leaves psychological disorders that may last for a long time, in addition to the possibility of a change in his personality and his distance from the surrounding society.

Enab Baladi monitored stories of Syrian refugees who were recently beaten and insulted by the Turkish gendarmerie or by employees working in the centers of the Turkish Immigration Service after they were returned by the border guards of countries that are considered a crossing point for reaching Europe.

Torturing refugees for “fun”

The recent security campaigns announced successively by the Turkish authorities have caused fear among Syrian refugees residing on Turkish territory, coinciding with the escalation of hate speech against them, which has led to an increase in the demand among a group of young people to immigrate to Europe, in addition to the many problems they face in Turkey.

Majed, who declined to reveal his full name for security reasons, told Enab Baladi that he and four of his friends tried to immigrate to Europe via Greece, and they were arrested by the Greek border guards after two days of walking.

Majed pointed out that the Greek border guards gathered them for several hours inside a prison and then sent them to the Evros (Maritsa ) River to be received by the Turkish side, which was already ready, which indicates the existence of a prior agreement between the two parties to receive the refugees.

Majed described the Turkish side’s reception of refugees and the method of beating and ill-treatment as similar to “having fun,” as everyone present was beaten by the Turkish border guards without exception or compassion.

The Greek border guards did not beat the detained refugees while they remained with them for many hours and treated them in a “humane” manner, unlike what elements on the Turkish side did, as they beat them throughout the hours of the night without reason or excuse, but only to “enjoy” their time, according to what Majed said.

The Turkish authorities returned Majed and his friends to the Greek border after asking them about their desire to return or stay, indicating that due to their fear, they did not dare to refuse to return to Greece, so the process of being returned to Turkey was repeated, which caused them disappointment in successfully reaching Europe, as they decided to return to Istanbul, “the danger station,” according to his description.

Istanbul-based Asaad, 26, told Enab Baladi that in mid-September, he, his brother, 16, and his cousin tried to cross the Turkish land border with Bulgaria with a group of 15 young men, but what happened to them put him in a state of shock and disbelief due to its difficulty.

Asaad, who declined to reveal his full name for security concerns, told Enab Baladi that after walking for more than 19 hours, the Bulgarian border guards arrested them after they had traveled more than 40 kilometers inside Bulgarian territory by letting police dogs attack the refugees, which led to to the injury of his relative.

The Bulgarian border guards put the refugees behind Turkish wires after stripping them of their personal belongings, forcing them to walk a distance of more than 10 kilometers, and returning them to Turkish territory against their will to be forced to surrender themselves to the Turkish army forces, according to Asaad.

Long-lasting effects

According to the testimonies of Syrian refugees to Enab Baladi, the Turkish authorities are also psychologically torturing detainees, which leads to creating psychological traumas that leave changes in the personality of the refugee whose first attempt to immigrate to Europe failed for varying periods.

The people interviewed by Enab Baladi confirmed their inability to go through the experiment again due to their fears of repeating these violations against them and their inability to bear them. They indicated that the “restrictions” of the borders at the present time prompted them to postpone the experiment.

Asaad pointed out that his younger brother was affected psychologically, which made him reject the idea of trying again through irregular smuggling routes for fear of repeating the physical and psychological torture, knowing that his brother was excited before he witnessed a harsh experience.

Psychologist Alaa al-Dali told Enab Baladi that a bad experience may leave psychological effects on a person and cause changes in his previous personality after going through a failed experience during which he was beaten and ill-treated.

As for the length of time for a refugee to overcome this experience it varies from one person to another for various reasons, as the personality of the refugee, the duration of detention, his age, and other factors play an important role. The younger the person is, the more clearly the results and problems become apparent than in a conscious person, al-Dali said.

The greater the extent of the physical violation, the more clearly its consequences on the person’s psyche extend over the long term, and the refugee continues to recall the violations to which he was exposed for a period ranging from months to a year or more.

Alaa al-Dali – Psychologist

The “danger” lies with children and adolescents, as they remain, for years sometimes, unable to forget what they witnessed during their experience while trying to migrate, remembering most of the details if not treated for the impact of these traumas in a timely manner, al-Dali told Enab Baladi.

The number of Syrians residing in Turkey decreased to 3,279,152 people at the beginning of this year, according to the latest statistics of the Turkish Presidency of Migration Management (PMM).

The Turkish Human Rights and Equality Institution (TİHEK) filed a lawsuit with the Public Prosecutor in Gaziantep State against the “Oğuzeli” Center affiliated with the PMM in August 2022, where refugees are detained before being deported to Syria, after proving violations by employees at the center against detained refugees.

Violations outside law framework

Turkish border guards and some government employees commit violations against refugees, including beatings, insults, and psychological and physical torture. These violations contravene international laws and European agreements that Turkey previously signed.

After being transferred to the Turkish Immigration Department in Kırıkkale in the city of Edirne, Syrian refugees were subjected to “severe” beatings more than the Turkish border guard soldiers did when they caught them, according to Asaad, who tried to leave across the Bulgarian border to Europe.

Yildiz Onen, a coordination member of the “Sığınmacı Hakları Platform” (Refugee rights monitoring group), told Enab Baladi that under international law, states have obligations to address the dangers faced by migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in host and transit countries.

Article 33 of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees stipulates that “No contracting state shall expel or return (refouler) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

Under the convention, contracting states are not allowed to arbitrarily detain asylum seekers in detention centers unless they have committed crimes.

Asaad told Enab Baladi that the violations that occurred with the detainees, including beatings and insults, were committed by government employees working in the Turkish Immigration Service, and he confirmed that their treatment was worse than the Turkish border guards who work to protect the country’s borders.

Onen commented on the violations of the Turkish government by saying that there is no article that stipulates torture in the constitution or law anywhere in the world. On the contrary, Turkey has signed the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture, Ill-Treatment, or Inhuman or Degrading Punishment, which was adopted in Europe in 1987 and came into effect in 1989.

Asaad pointed out that they were deprived by the Turkish army and members of the Immigration Department of entering the bathrooms and drinking water, and whoever dared to drink the water that he described as “non-potable” would be beaten with a stick by the officers present in the place, in addition to being beaten without clear reasons and only because “they want to.”

Asaad and his brother remained in the Turkish Immigration Department in the city of Edirne for about two days, during which they only ate one meal, and they were prevented from communicating with their family from the moment they were arrested by the Bulgarian border guards.

According to Article 94, entitled “Torture” of the current Turkish Penal Code No. 5237 of Chapter Three, an employee who commits acts against a person that is not consistent with human dignity and causes physical or mental suffering or affects his ability to perceive or willpower or exposes him to insult, is punishable by imprisonment for between three and 12 years, Onen said.

The above-mentioned agreements and laws oblige all Turkish government employees to implement them in full, according to the migrant rights advocate.

Onen added to Enab Baladi that the person who was insulted has the right to file a lawsuit against the person who tortured him and subjected him to violations, but it takes a long time in Turkey, and judgments issued do not fully compensate the victim.

The person who has been insulted has the right to file a lawsuit against the person who tortured and subjected him to abuse, but it takes a long time in Turkey, and judgments issued do not fully compensate the victim.

Yildiz Onen – Coordinating Member of the Turkish Sığınmacı Hakları Platform Organization

In its report issued at the end of 2022, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued, citing deported Syrians, that the Turkish authorities arrested them from their homes, their workplaces, and the streets and detained them in “bad conditions.”


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