Over 6,000 unregistered migrants detained in Istanbul – interior minister

Turkish authorities have detained over 6,000 undocumented migrants in Istanbul in a drive to combat irregular migration, German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle Türkçe quoted Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu as saying on Wednesday.

The Istanbul Governorate published a statement on Monday confirming reports that the authorities had been searching for unregistered migrants in the city, amid widespread public dissatisfaction with the government’s migration policies.

Anger at the large population of Syrian refugees in Turkey has risen tensions this year, but Soylu said only around 1,000 of those caught since the operation began on July 12 were Syrians, compared to 2,691 Afghans and 619 people from Pakistan.

People from Morocco, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka and Algeria have also been apprehended, Soylu said.

“I’m this country’s interior minister”, Soylu said. “Noone should be in this country without my knowledge, without being registered”.

Turkey has become the home to some 3.6 million documented migrants from Syria, where an eight-year civil war has displaced some 12.2 million of the country’s 2011 population of 22 million, the UN Refugee Agency's figures say. Over 5.6 million people have fled Syria, while 6.6 million people are internally displaced.

Recent surveys have shown that a large majority of Turkish citizens wish to see the Syrian migrants returned to Syria. Tight economic conditions have sharpened the grievances, and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s handling of the issue is seen as a factor for its significant losses in the local elections this year.

According to survey data, most Syrian refugees would like to stay in Turkey. The path to Europe has been blocked by a deal struck between Ankara and the European Union in 2016, and a return to Syria would mean either living in the opposition-held Idlib province, which has been under heavy bombardment throughout much of this year, or risking arrest by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Most documented Syrian migrants in Turkey have been granted “temporary protection”, a status that comes with possible restrictions including bans on travelling outside the province they are registered in.

Istanbul and nine provinces near the Syrian border stopped registering new asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch reported last year.

Soylu reiterated the governorate’s statement that Syrians registered in other provinces would have until August 20 to return to those provinces before being returned there by Turkish authorities.

However, unconfirmed reports from activists on social media said that some Syrians who held registration in other provinces had been returned to Syria.

Syrians activists in Turkey have spoken of an atmosphere of dread raised by the fear that members of the community could be arbitrarily arrested and sent back across the border.

In October 2018, a report by journalists Shawn Carrie and Asmaa Al Omar published in the Guardian detailed how Turkish officials had been sending asylum seekers back to Syria, while courts had begun issuing orders to deport Syrians deemed a threat to public order.

However, Soylu said that no migrants in Turkey under temporary protection had been sent across the border.

“According to international law, no country in the world may deport anyone under temporary protection status”, the Turkish interior minister said.