How Syrian refugees in Turkey spent 2023

Syrians waiting to cross to Syria from Turkey at Bab al-Hawa border crossing following the Feb. 6 earthquake - 2023 (AP)

Syrians waiting to cross to Syria from Turkey at Bab al-Hawa border crossing following the Feb. 6 earthquake - 2023 (AP)


The number of Syrian refugees under the Temporary Protection system in Turkey decreased by over 313,000 during 2023, according to the official statistics published by the Turkish Presidency of Migration Management.

Official figures announced by the former Turkish Minister of the Interior, Süleyman Soylu, revealed that the number of Syrian refugees by the end of 2022 was 3,535,898.

At present, the number of refugees is 3,222,012, according to the latest statistics issued by the Presidency of Migration Management on December 21.

In the same context, the current Turkish Minister of the Interior, Ali Yerlikaya, stated on December 17 that 604,277 Syrians had “voluntarily” returned to their country over the past eleven months, with a difference of nearly 300,000 from the numbers recorded by the Turkish Migration Management until December 21, indicating the deletion of more than 313,000 individuals during 2023.

The Turkish government did not explain the varying figures mentioned in the statements of the Minister of the Interior and the statistics of Turkish Migration Management.

The Turkish government deliberately cancels the registration of those who leave Turkish territory to Syria from those registered under the “temporary protection” system.

“Voluntary” return of refugees

The Turkish government continuously emphasizes that the return of Syrian refugees occurs in a “voluntary, safe, and dignified” manner without humiliation or coercion while conducting security operations throughout the country to capture “irregular migrants.”

Regarding “voluntary return,” the Turkish newspaper “Sabah” reported that the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, instructed the implementation of a project called “Aleppo Model” aimed at repatriating refugees to their homes by opening businesses in the “safe areas” (northern Aleppo countryside and part of the east) to create a working environment for those willing to return.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented in a report published on April 27 the torture and killing of Syrian civilians by the Turkish border guards (gendarmerie) as they crossed “illegally.”

The organization called on the Turkish government to open an investigation and hold those involved in these grave human rights violations accountable, putting an end to the impunity that has prevailed for a long time.

Article 33 of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees states that “no contracting state shall expel or return 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.”

Campaigns targeting refugees

The significant decrease in the number of refugees is a result of security campaigns carried out by the Turkish authorities during the current year, especially after the presidential elections won by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on May 28, when he pledged to reduce the number of “irregular migrants.”

Less than two months after the Turkish president’s victory, the Minister of the Interior, Ali Yerlikaya, revealed issuing instructions to track “irregular migrants” throughout Turkey, indicating that the campaign may continue for months, during an interview with the Hürriyet newspaper on July 6.

The minister pledged at that time that within four to five months, there would be a noticeable difference in the number of those violating Turkish state laws as a result of the security campaign carried out by the state.

At the end of July, the Turkish Presidency of Migration Management granted Syrians residing illegally in Istanbul a period of about two months, following which the violators were required to return to their registered provinces by September 24.

The statement issued by the Presidency of Migration Management prompted Syrian refugees violating Turkish laws to pursue other options given what is available to them.

The deportation of Syrians from the country affected Syrian and Turkish employers in Istanbul, causing damage to their businesses due to the vacancies in places where they used to work.

In rejection of racism and anti-refugee sentiment in Turkey in general and Syrians in particular, the Fatih district in Istanbul witnessed a demonstration on September 16 by dozens of people of various nationalities under the slogan “Let’s raise the banner of brotherhood against racism.”

At the end of the same month, the Turkish judiciary sentenced eight individuals, including managers and editors of websites and accounts known for targeting asylum seekers and “irregular migrants” in Turkey, to prison.

During 2023, Turkey worked on establishing “mobile migration points” to facilitate the process of apprehending “irregular migrants” in 30 major cities in Turkey, increasing their number from 97 to 162, with their main task being to inspect the documents of migrants.

Earthquake adds difficulties

The earthquake that hit southern Turkey and northern Syria added to the problems faced by Syrian refugees during 2023, as approximately 1.7 million people resided in the earthquake-affected southern Turkish areas following the earthquake that occurred on February 6, affecting 11 Turkish provinces and 4 Syrian governorates.

After Syrian families lost their homes and sources of income, they faced the problem of their home addresses being cleared by the state after demolition, leading to the suspension of aid from the Turkish Red Crescent (kizilay kart).

The earthquake caused a mass displacement of Syrians and Turks towards unscathed states, prompting the Turkish state to allow Syrian residents in the “affected” areas to obtain a “travel permit” in the new state, initially for two months, which was extended later to three months.

Obtaining the “travel permit” by the earthquake-affected Syrians was not easy, as refugees faced issues that persisted for up to 20 days, from the occasional rejection of permit renewal for various reasons by one Turkish Migration Department or another, and upon approval, it was issued for a duration of 90 days and had to be renewed after its expiration.

The Human Rights Watch criticized the decision to grant a specific time-bound “travel permit” to earthquake-affected refugees, describing it as “arbitrary,” asserting that the time restrictions must be suspended indefinitely.

Some refugees were not able to leave the “affected” states due to their circumstances and remained in makeshift tents with their children, facing the hardships of the camp life, deprived of necessary services, and surrounded by diseases due to the unsuitable environment, accompanied by the absence of privacy and fear and disturbances caused by the earthquake for many of them.

The earthquake affected ten provinces in Turkey, leading to the death of more than 56,000 individuals, and the injury of around 100,000 others, including Turks and Syrian refugees, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs regional data.

No clear statistics have been issued encompassing the number of Syrian refugees who died in Turkey due to the earthquake.

Surprise decisions

Nearly two months ago, Syrian refugees circulated “unofficial” news about decisions to close both the Nizip camp in the Turkish province of Gaziantep and the Elbeyli camp in the Kilis province simultaneously.

The president of the Arab Media House in Turkey, Jalal Demir, confirmed to Enab Baladi at that time that the Turkish Presidency of Migration Management announced the closure of the Elbeyli camp in Kilis and informed its administration of the decision to work on its implementation by November 5, 2023.

The Elbeyli camp accommodates 7,732 individuals and Syrian refugees began residing in the camp effectively on June 3, 2013, while the Nizip camp was home to around 400 Syrian families affected by the earthquake.

Last October, the Communication Director of the Joint Syrian-Turkish Committee, Enas al-Najjar, confirmed to Enab Baladi that the administration of the Nizip camp extended the deadline granted to earthquake-affected refugees to November 13 of the same month to provide families with additional time to secure themselves.

The evacuation decisions placed the inhabitants under pressure with two options: either voluntarily returning to Syria or moving to other Turkish provinces excluding Istanbul, with families being paid compensatory amounts, set at 14,000 Turkish liras per individual willing to return voluntarily, while the amount offered to those intending to settle in another Turkish province was 6,500 Turkish liras per individual, provided only once.


النسخة العربية من المقال

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