AMMAN — Amr Daboul set off to cross the sea between Turkey and Greece in an inflatable boat. Though the trip is dangerous, he told Syria Direct he was willing to take the risk to reunite with his family in Belgium.

Shortly into the trip, the Greek coast guard notified his Turkish counterpart that the boat’s engine was failing. After a few days of detention in Aydin prison, Daboul found himself in the war-torn Syrian governorate of Idlib.

Daboul is one of the hundreds of Syrians deported over the past two weeks from Turkey into the opposition-held areas in northwest Syria. These deportations come as a result of a security crackdown against Syrians residing in cities other than the ones in which they are registered as refugees, or working without obtaining work permits.

Daboul, however, was a legal resident in Turkey; holding Temporary Protection Identification Documents, known as ‘Kimlik’, from Gazentip. Nonetheless, he was deported along with 40 other Syrian refugees into Syria. 

Since the outbreak of the Syrian Revolution in the spring of 2011, Turkey has been one of the most vital transit corridors into Europe. “Although the Turkish coast guard has been arresting illegal immigrants who attempt the trip to Europe, deportation to Syria had never been done before,” said Daboul. 

“Deportation operations happening now are violations of the law, as well as [oppose] Turkey’s previous policy,” he said.

Empty neighborhoods

Entire neighborhoods of Istanbul, which were once known for being packed with Syrians, have become deserted in the last few weeks. Shops were closed and popular gathering places for Syrians like Malta market have experienced unusual stillness, said a Syrian resident of Istanbul.

According to Abdullah al-Hassan (pseudonym) who spoke to Syria Direct under the condition of anonymity, pedestrians are nowhere to be found. “It felt almost like a curfew had been imposed by security forces,” he said.

"The Syrians are staying in their homes because of fear that they might be arrested.”

 

A woman walks in Malta market in Istanbul, 20/7/2019, (Local activists)

 Furthermore, “fear from the [crackdown] is also affecting law-abiding Syrians due to news circulating [that] some Syrians who are supposed to be legally protected from deportation are being deported,” he added.

Another resident of Istanbul reported his son was arrested from his workplace in Istanbul. Instead of sending him back to the city of Kasery, where he is registered, he was deported to Idlib.

“He surprised us when he called and said he was in Idlib,” Abu Shadi al-Halabi told Syria Direct.

Al-Halabi and his family members (children and grandchildren) hold a “Kimlik” from Istanbul, except for his deported son, who is registered in Keysari. 

“My son told us he was arrested in Istanbul, so I headed towards the location of the bus where the detainees were lined up. I begged the security guards to leave him [behind]. They promised he would only be deported to Keysari and could return to us again with an official travel permit.” 

“Forty-eight hours after the phone call between us, [our son] told us that he was returned to Syria after being forced to sign documents consenting to his deportation,” he recalled.

 Two Syrian women standing next to a deportation bus, 20/7/2019, (Local activists)

Escalating Violations 

Among the immigrants present in the inflatable boat Daboul rode off the Coast of Greece, was a Christian Syrian who had traveled from Lebanon to Turkey in order to cross into Europe.

“He had never visited Syria before and had no relatives there,” Daboul said. Still, he was deported to Syria after being incarcerated in Turkey’s Aydin prison. 

"The signs of fear on the man were [obvious], especially since he didn’t know what would happen to him in Idlib,” which is controlled mainly by [the extremist Islamist group] Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. This month, an elderly Christian woman from al-Yacoubiya town, was murdered in the western countryside of the governorate. 

In the same vein, Abu Ammar al-Shami, a 40-year-old from southern Damascus, who arrived in Turkey eight months ago after paying a smuggler $3,000, was arrested while strolling down Mimti Street in Istanbul, for not possessing a "Kimlik".

He told Syria Direct that he was held for hours and asked to sign documents that he was told were “simply routine” but that he could not read. He was then handed to the Turkish military who confiscated his cell phone, handcuffed him, and took him, along with a group of Syrians, to the Syrian border. 

“I told them that my wife and children were in Istanbul [with] no other breadwinner and that I had an appointment to get a “Kimlik” from Bursa in one month, but they refused to let me go …I do not know who to talk to and how I can meet them [his family] again,” he said. 

Human rights activist Bassam al-Ahmad noted that such violations against Syrian refugees by Turkish authorities aren’t new, “especially if we point to the violations of border [guards], where they shot [dozens of refugees], as well as beat and tortured hundreds of people, then returned them [to Syria].” 

Talking to Syria Direct, he explained "silence, especially from the Syrian organizations operating on Turkish territory, about previous violations is for political reasons”. 

“But today things are [getting] out of control," he said. 

Turkey began deporting Syrian refugees under dubious circumstances, something which might constitute a human rights violation. It has returned many (exact figures are unknown) to dangerous areas like Idlib, which is currently subject to a major military campaign by the Syrian government forces and its Russian ally, which has thus far displaced 440,000 people and killed 400 people.

 “International law on the rights of refugees obliges states not to forcibly repatriate refugees, regardless of whether the state has signed international agreements or not," Al Ahmad said. 

"Turkey reserves the right to organize its country, but what cannot be accepted [is] arbitrary forceful deportation and bad treatment by soldiers."

Translated by: Nada Atieh