AMMAN- In order to relieve the financial burden on Syrians living in Istanbul illegally, the ‘Syrian Societies Forum’—an umbrella organization of Syrian societies providing aid to Syrian refugees in Turkey—in coordination with the state of Istanbul, announced it would provide what it called “free transportation service for Syrians” for a limited time that ended in early August.
This service was meant to return Syrians in Istanbul to the cities and provinces they obtained their Temporary Protection Identification Documents, known as ‘Kimlik,’ from, but it did not do enough to ameliorate the situations of some, like Mazen Ibrahim.
“Can I abide by the Turkish laws?” he told Syria Direct when asked if he had taken advantage of the free transportation service.
Ibrahim, a young man in his twenties from the Damascene neighborhood of al-Qaboon, arrived in Turkey in 2017 and received his Kimlik from Izmir, a metropolitan city in western Anatolia. His father and sister, however, received their Kimliks in Adana and Antakya.
“Is it logical for each member of the family to live in a [separate] city?” he asked, commenting on his family’s residency situation. He’s the sole provider for his family.
Conversely, Ahmad al-Hussein is a film and documentary editor who moved to Turkey in 2018 and received a kimlik in Hatay province. He searched for work in Hatay for three months before giving up and moving with his family to Istanbul.
“After settling down and finding work, it is not easy for the government to force you to move in ten days,” he told Syria Direct. “To find a new home, job, and furniture in states whose residents can’t find employment [is not easy].”
Stuck in Istanbul
There is growing controversy and criticism over the Turkish government’s security crackdown on Syrian refugees living illegally in Istanbul. The government, however, doubled and expanded their campaign, which started on July 13, targeting Syrians living and working illegally in Istanbul.
Last month, Turkey’s Interior Minister, Süleyman Soylu, revealed the formation of 100 security teams to implement the campaign while issuing a flurry of new restrictions on Syrians living and working in Istanbul.
Among those restrictions, the governor of Istanbul, Ali Yerlikaya, announced that babies born to Syrian families in Istanbul without the Kimlik from the city would not be given temporary protection documents from Istanbul.
The Turkish authorities are still studying the right decision regarding an estimated 2,100 Syrian students registered in Istanbul’s schools without the appropriate Kimlik. At the same time, they have placed more restrictions on the health services available to illegal residents of Istanbul.
The Health Center for Muhajerin (migrants) in the Esenyurt neighborhood of Istanbul announced early last month that they would not be able to provide medical services or vaccines to those who don’t hold an Istanbul Kimlik due to the decisions of the Department of Migration and the General Health Directorate.
To Ibrahim, the Directorate’s decision constitutes a disaster. His mother needs constant medical attention and had previously been visiting medical centers regularly due to intestinal disease, he said. “Does it make sense for her to go to Adana if she has an emergency?”
Furthermore, the Ministry of Labor issued a warning towards companies and factories hiring foreigners without Istanbul Kimliks or proper work permits. Beginning on August 20, the Ministry and Security Directorate announced they will conduct exhaustive inspections of illegally employed foreign workers in Istanbul. Companies caught employing foreigners without proper documentation will be fined 17,696 Turkish Lira ($3,219), and forced to pay the deporting cost.
Fear and reality
Ibrahim, like many Syrians, is cautious to leave the neighborhood. He hasn’t left in two months out of fear of being caught by the ongoing security crackdown. Al-Hussein is afraid as well but believes the security forces show increased scrutiny to those who have physical features associated with Syrians. He said that he is able to avoid the security check sometimes when he is with his brother, who is blonde with blue eyes.
“There are patrols organized in the metro or the streets, house raids, or plainclothes police officers that will stop you suddenly, just because of the way you look. We were scared of the street searches, as the town was working with the police to search all of the workplaces,” he told Syria Direct. “Those who held Kimliks outside of Istanbul would be immediately deported to Syria, not to the city [he was registered in].”
At the end of July, Human Rights Watch reported that Turkish authorities were detaining Syrians and forcing them to sign forms stating their desire to return to Syria. Hundreds of Syrians have been deported over the past few weeks into the opposition-held areas in northwest Syria as a result of the security crackdown.
The Turkish Interior Minister has denied this report and the claim that Syrians are being forcibly deported. Instead, he states these Syrians want to voluntarily return to Syria and claims the ministry has “instituted policies to ensure their departure to safe areas.”
According to official statistics published by Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Syria and Turkey on August 3, almost 14,000 Syrians have been deported through the crossing in the last three months (6,160 in July, 4,370 in June, and 3,316 in May).
In al-Hussein’s opinion, the problem is not with the refugees, but with the way the Turkish government has dealt with them since the very beginning: their illegal status and nebulous labels, such as guests and Muhajerin.
“I have experienced every kind of fear. But the fear of the unknown is by far the worst. I am in a country whose language I don’t know. I don’t understand what the policeman is saying. I don’t understand what they’re forcing me to sign,” said al-Hussein. “This by itself is terrifying.”
For Al-Hussein who claimed asylum in Turkey about a year ago, the current Turkish government policies make him feel as though he is “being displaced all over again,” he said.