Thousands of refugees have been deported to Syria amidst a security crackdown, now in its third week, on Syrian refugees in Turkey, especially in Istanbul.
According to the records of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, as cited by Syrian opposition-affiliated media outlets, 4,380 Syrian refugees have been deported from Turkey to Syria through Bab al-Hawa alone since the beginning of the Turkish security campaign on July 13.
The campaign targets Syrians residing in cities other than those they are authorized to live in and those working without the proper work permits.
The total number of deported Syrians is likely to be much higher than the numbers reported at Bab al-Hawa, as deportation is also being carried out through other crossings such as the official Grapples crossing point and informal points such as al-Alani and Teiha, though there is a dearth of reliable data on the subject.
Many other Syrians are also reported to be in detention awaiting a decision by Turkish authorities to either deport them to Syria or relocate them to other cities in Turkey.Nonetheless, those Syrian opposition groups and figures based in Turkey that have a close relationship with the Justice and Development ruling party (AKP), have thus far remained largely silent over the new developments.
One of the first responses to the security crackdown came from Molham al-Droubi, a prominent figure in the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. In a thinly-veiled justification of Turkey’s actions in deporting Syrians posted on Facebook, he said:
“I welcomed him into my home as a guest and I carried out my duties for a long while and treated him like my child and sometimes showed him preference over my children. Unfortunately, neither his ignorant behavior nor his family’s greed improved. Time has passed and my hand has tightened and he does not feel or show manners. What do you propose I do?”
As a result of the public anger over the post, Mohamed Hikmat Walid, the leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, issued a statement distancing the group from al-Droubi’s opinion and condemning it.
However, Hikmat barely addressed the deportation of Syrians in Turkey in his statement. After thanking Turkey, he said:
“We are cooperating with the sons of the country [Syrians] to alleviate the suffering of Syrian [refugees] and find appropriate solutions to preserve their rights, as well as the security and stability of this hospitable country [Turkey].”
The National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, the Turkey-based political body recognized internationally as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, refrained from making any decisive comments on the deportations.
Its first public move was the meeting held between the President of the Coalition, Anas al-Abdah, and the Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu in Ankara on July 24.
According to the statement issued by the information department of the Coalition, the two parties agreed "to form a joint committee headed by the Turkish Deputy Minister of Interior and the President of the National Coalition” to investigate issues related to Syrian refugees in Turkey.
“The results of the work of the Committee and the decisions reached with the Turkish government will be announced early next week,” the statement said.
A member of the Coalition also told Syria Direct, on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, that the Department of Refugee Affairs in the National Coalition also held a political meeting on July 17, followed by two other meetings, to discuss the Turkish campaign on the Syrian refugees in Istanbul.
Syria Direct reached out to the Department of Refugee Affairs to inquire what work it was doing to support Syrian refugees in Turkey but received no response.
The Coalition’s dilemma
While al-Abdah described the meeting with the Turkish minister as "fruitful and successful," Syrian refugees in Istanbul who spoke to Syria Direct stated their belief that the Coalition cannot stop the security crackdown or to reach a political agreement to settle the refugees’ situation.
"The Turkish campaign is still going on," Abu Saeed, a worker in a sewing workshop in Istanbul, told Syria Direct.
“The inspections did not stop, and the Coalition will not affect what is happening in the city.”
Likewise, the refugees who were deported to Idlib in northwest Syria have denied statements that Syrian Opposition forces have reached any solutions with Turkey.
According to Amr Daboul who was deported to Idlib recently, “only journalists and lawyers contacted me, asking for information and a copy of the [Temporary Protection Document] ‘Kimlik’. [But] despite their promises to help, they did nothing.”
Those who returned to Turkey managed to do so through smugglers, according to Daboul
However, according to the member of the Coalition, the most the political body can do now is to present problems that Syrians have to the Turkish government with suggestions for possible solutions.
“The headquarters of the Coalition is in Turkey, and to be honest, [it is, as a result] in the Turks’ laps. Therefore, the Coalition cannot deal with Turkey [on equal footing] with regards to the refugee issue.”
They added that Turkey is also currently allied with the Iranians and Russians, the two most prominent allies of the [Syrian] regime. “This poses a danger to our relations [with Turkey], especially given that the Coalition has lost 80 percent of its relations with the surrounding Arab states.”
More seriously, “the Coalition is feeling the Turkish security campaign’s threat itself, as some of its members live in Turkey illegally and need, consequently, to settle their [legal] status,” he said.
Still, there are nascent relations between the leftist members of the Coalition and the left-leaning Turkish opposition, something which would allow the Coalition to build rapport with political parties in Turkey other than the AKP, according to the Coalition member.