AANES seeks international support through refugee file

Residents gather in a neighborhood of Qamishli city near a fuel station to obtain kerosene instead of gas - May 17, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Majd al-Salem)

Residents gather in a neighborhood of Qamishli city near a fuel station to obtain kerosene instead of gas - May 17, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Majd al-Salem)


Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli

Nearly a month after the Iraqi authorities (the central government and the government of Erbil) decided to stop granting residencies to Syrians and other measures including stopping the issuance of entry visas for Syrians, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) reported that the first group of Syrians deported from Iraq had arrived in its controlled areas, from where they would move towards their original hometowns.

In a statement, AANES added that Iraq deported the Syrian refugees to northeastern Syria, although some come from areas controlled by the Syrian regime.

AANES denied rumors circulating on social media that it is deporting the deportees from Iraq outside of its controlled areas, considering these “false information and propaganda with the deliberate intent to incite discord”.

It also noted that the deportation process by the Iraqi government would continue in the coming days, stating that “everyone will be sent to the region they migrated from”.

AANES played a unique role in receiving Syrian refugees, as it had previously offered to welcome Syrian refugees stuck in Sudan during battles between Sudanese military factions about a year ago.

AANES received Syrians through the Qamishli airport who had survived the battles at the time. It was later unclear whether they stayed in its controlled areas or moved to another destination.

In Lebanon as well, AANES attempted to play a role in the Syrian refugee issue, which is one of the major crises on Lebanon’s political scene. A representative of AANES in Lebanon told North Press agency in April of this year that AANES had expressed its readiness about a year ago to welcome Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and at that time, several families reached its controlled areas.

What’s the objective?

The Syrian refugee files are some of the most present issues in the region, especially for Syria’s neighboring countries, where it has long been an election project for some political parties in these countries, and a file suitable for political attraction in other countries.

While the regime continues to refuse the return of refugees before starting reconstruction, which the West has refused to initiate until a political transition is achieved according to UN resolution “2254”, the refugees suffer from successive racist campaigns in various countries, advocating their deportation.

Researcher specializing in northeast Syria affairs at Omran Center for Strategic Studies, Samer al-Ahmad, told Enab Baladi that AANES’ propositions to receive Syrian refugees are not new and have been repeated over the years.

He added that AANES aims to send messages on two levels, the first to Syrians themselves, and the second to the international community, and aims to portray itself as capable of being part of the solution to some of the regional problems related to the Syrian file, such as the Syrian refugee file.

The researcher believes that AANES’ exploitation of such a file is not different from its attempts to exploit earthquake aid in February 2023, in order to win the trust of some Syrian communities in it, and trying to be a partner with regional countries and the international community regarding the Syrian file.

In February 2023, AANES reported that the aid it provided to areas affected by the earthquake in Syria was rejected and prevented from entering areas controlled by the regime and opposition areas.

AANES, supported by Washington, mentioned that offering aid followed the earthquake that hit southern Turkey and northern Syria, resulting in thousands of casualties and injuries amid ongoing rescue operations for those trapped under the rubble.

Searching for political recognition

Assistant researcher specializing in the affairs of non-state actors at Omran Center for Strategic Studies, Osama Sheikh Ali, sees AANES’ moves as attempts to seek political recognition by presenting itself as part of the solution, but it is actually unable to accommodate refugees in its controlled areas.

He added that the areas controlled by AANES witness a widespread spread of refugee camps, and these camps pose a problem for the Autonomous Administration, which stands powerless against them, at a time when the residents of these camps live under the aid provided by international and local organizations.

The researcher believes that if AANES actually had a genuine desire to solve the refugee problem, we might need to look at the camps file in its controlled areas as a problem internal to it.

In the areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration, there are numerous camps hosting displaced people from areas that have previously witnessed military battles between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is the military wing of AANES, and other parties.

The area itself suffers from deterioration in living and service conditions, just like other control areas in Syria.

Is AANES capable of hosting refugees? 

As AANES strives to present itself as a solution regarding the Syrian refugee file, towns and villages under its control suffer from poor services and deteriorating living conditions, leading its inhabitants, like those from other controlled areas, to seek migration.

AANES has for years clamped down on the Arab inhabitants of the region, who do not have sufficient representation despite forming the majority of the population. This has caused security tensions that resurface from time to time.

Researcher Samer al-Ahmad believes that the Autonomous Administration is indeed capable of hosting Syrian refugees from neighboring countries because it controls large geographical areas. However, due to the ideology governing its areas, it is incapable.

The researcher, who specializes in eastern Syria affairs, added that AANES naturally deals with the inhabitants of the region in an exclusionary and discriminatory manner. It imposes what is locally known as the “Expat card” on those wishing to live in the province of al-Hasakah who come from other villages and towns, although the Autonomous Administration controls both areas.

In December 2022, the Interior Authority affiliated with the Autonomous Administration issued a statement saying that it grants migrants to its areas in northeastern Syria an “Expat card.”

It added that the measures it takes have not witnessed any deportation outside AANES’ controlled areas, regardless of the situation, indicating a “flexible operation for all individuals from outside AANES areas.”

In March, AANES’ Internal Security Forces (Asayish) began summoning the displaced people from Deir Ezzor province residing in al-Hasakah province, specifically in the city of Qamishli, through neighborhood heads or by phone, for the purpose of renewing the “Expat card” and threatening those who refuse with “deportation from the area.”


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