Erdogan deporting Syrian refugees


AT first sight, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s record over the handling refugees fleeing carnage in Bashar Assad’s Syria is admirable. Turkey hosts more than 3.6 million refugees many of whom are housed in massive camps not far from the border with their homeland. The best of these camps, which the authorities have been eager to show off to media and visiting officials from around the world, are self-contained fully-serviced townships, with stores, workshops, schools, hospitals and perhaps most importantly, especially for children, psychological services to try and help them cope with the traumatic horrors they have experienced.

The greater part of this major relief effort has been funded by the international community. It would have been absurd to expect Syria’s neighbors, particularly Turkey and Jordan to shoulder by themselves the immense costs involved. But it is now clear that not all the camps are showcases. All are guarded by Turkish police and military. Originally Ankara said its major concern the regime in Damascus might seek to strike at its refugee citizens. However, it was clear from the outset that the guards were there to keep those in the camps from leaving. For sure Syrians were allowed out for neighborhood visits but no one was permitted to head elsewhere in Turkey without specific authorization.

More than eight years on from the start of Assad’s campaign to crush his own people, many Syrians refugees have had enough of camp life. Depression is widespread and still on the increase. Some inmates, who have lost all hope, have taken their own lives. It is therefore hardly surprising that there has been a steady trickle of Syrians, abandoning camp life and sneaking away to big conurbations. Istanbul of course has been the greatest draw. It is being estimated that there are now over a million Syrians in the city. However, according to the authorities, only half of these have been registered and given the right to be there.

Thus a major round up has begun with Syrians unable to produce the right papers being scooped off the streets by police and, ostensibly to be sent back to the largely southern province in which they were first registered as refugees. Turkish protests that this is merely to enforce its laws are undermined by that fact that detained refugees are being forced to sign statements in Turkish, which they do not properly understand, agreeing to be sent back to Syria, specifically to Idlib province, currently the chaotic crucible of fighting between Turks, Kurds, the Free Syrian army, Daesh (the so-called IS) and its satraps and the ruthless troops of the Assad regime. Effectively, against international law, these unfortunates are being deported. And many of them are being sent to a part of the country which is not their home and where they have no obvious means of surviving.

Moreover, the Istanbul round-up is splitting up families, including mothers from their husbands and children. And the arrest of unregistered refugees appears to have given a green light to racists who have begun to harass Syrians on the street and threatening homes and businesses in the districts where they have clustered. Assad of course cares nothing for these people, so they have no government to protect them. Only the international community can drive home the message to Erdogan that ending his welcome for Syrian refugees in heartless and unacceptable.