Dear Commissioner Hahn, High Representative Mogherini and High Commissioner Filippo Grandi,
We, the undersigned Syrian and international human rights organisations, are writing to ask you to urge the Turkish authorities not to deport Syrian refugees from Istanbul and other cities to Syria, where they face a real risk of detention, torture, and death.
On 20 August the Istanbul governor’s office announced that Syrian refugees in Istanbul who are registered under the country’s temporary protection policy in other provinces must return there by 30 October. Turkey’s Interior Ministry has also said that unregistered Syrians found in Istanbul will be sent to other as yet unspecified provinces in Turkey. Since late 2017, Istanbul and nine other provinces have stopped registering newly arriving Syrian asylum seekers, forcing many to live in Turkey without a temporary protection permit.
In addition, in recent months, xenophobic sentiment towards Syrian refugees in Turkey has escalated, fueled in part by hostile rhetoric from politicians across the political spectrum who have promised voters to send refugees home.
Since mid-July, activists and human rights organisations have documented many cases in which the authorities have arrested and detained registered Syrian refugees outside their registered province. The arrests have included those traveling from other parts of Turkey to their registered provinces, as well as unregistered Syrians. The authorities have coerced Syrians into signing “voluntary return” documents before deporting them to Syria.
In July and August, 6,160 and 8,901 Syrians—both registered and unregistered—were deported to Syria from Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, according to the Syrian immigration authorities’ website. This is a significant increase compared to previous months and coincides with the July policy change. These figures may also include Syrians intercepted and deported shortly after they crossed into Turkey, a practice that has been going on for a number of years.
Reports from media and activists in touch with our organisations confirm that the Turkish police have beaten detainees, denied them medical care and, in some cases, sent them to Idlib and northern Aleppo, where more than 1,180 civilians have been killed since February 2019, according to the local monitoring organisation, the Response Coordination Group.
By deporting refugees and asylum seekers to a war zone or to areas where there is a real risk of persecution, Turkish authorities are in violation of their obligations under international law, and specifically the prohibition on refoulement. The Syrians being sent back not only face being caught up in the offensive in Idlib governorate but are at risk of arrest and torture at the hands of the Syrian government or armed groups.
Syrians we have spoken to describe how afraid they now are in Turkey. They stay at home to avoid arrest, including once they have returned to the cities where they were registered.
In August, the EU announced a further €127 million to boost its Emergency Social Safety Net program for refugees in Turkey. In total, the EU has pledged €6 billion in refugee funding to Turkey, while the UNHCR continues to support Syrian refugees in the country.
However, neither the European Commission, EU member states, nor UNHCR have spoken publicly about these deportations, despite the clear risk that large numbers of Syrians in Turkey’s cities now face. They should press the Turkish authorities to stop all forced return of Syrians, including an end to coercing Syrians into signing voluntary repatriation forms, and to give those already deported to Syria the option to return to Turkey.
Member states, the European Commission and UNHCR should also commit to increasing their presence in Turkey’s removal centers to ensure that Syrians are not coerced into signing voluntary repatriation forms.
If needed, they should support Turkish authorities to register unregistered Syrians and ensure ongoing financial support to Turkey to better protect Syrian refugees.
We also urge EU member states to resettle significant numbers of Syrian refugees from Turkey.
Adopt a Revolution
Cairo Institute for Human Rights
Human Rights Watch
Irish Syria Solidarity Movement
PÊL- Civil Waves بيل – الامواج المدنية
Syrian British Council
Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression
Syrians for Truth and Justice – سوريون من أجل الحقيقة والعدالة
Syrian Network for Human Rights
Syria Solidarity Australia
Syria Solidarity UK
The Syria Campaign
Women Now for Development