Turkey illegally dumping Syrians in a war zone - Human Rights Watch

Turkish authorities are detaining and coercing Syrians into signing “voluntary return” forms and then forcibly returning them to northern Syria, an area that is currently a war zone, said rights group Human Rights Watch on Friday. 

The Istanbul governor’s office on Monday set an Aug. 20 deadline for Syrian refugees to return to the Turkish provinces in which they were registered on arrival or face forcible return to those regions.

But Syrians in Istanbul and refugee advocates have reported that Syrian refugees were  not only sent to the provinces they were registered. Some also have been deported to Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in Syria, currently under attack by Damascus which wants to remove jihadi fighters.

United Nations said on Friday that air strikes by the Syrian government and its allies had killed at least 103 civilians in the past 10 days, including 26 children. 

“Turkey claims it helps Syrians voluntarily return to their country, but threatening to lock them up until they agree to return, forcing them to sign forms, and dumping them in a war zone is neither voluntary nor legal,” said Gerry Simpson, HRW’s associate Emergencies director. “Turkey should be commended for hosting record numbers of Syrian refugees, but unlawful deportations are not the way forward.”

The Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Wednesday that none of the 3.6 million Syrians under temporary protection status would be deported, adding that those who were illegally in Turkey with no residence permits had been taken to refugee camps.

Ahval on Tuesday talked on the phone with 18-year-old Syrian Amjad Mohamad Adel Tablieh, who said he had been sent to Idlib after he was caught by the police in Istanbul with no identity card while visiting relatives. Reuters on Thursday interviewed five Syrians who said they had been deported to Idlib. 

HRW said it also had spoken by phone with four Syrians who were in Syria after being detained and forcibly returned there.

One of the men, who was from Ghouta, in the Damascus countryside, was detained on July 17 in Istanbul, where he had been living unregistered for over three years, HRW said. He said police coerced him and other Syrian detainees into signing a form, transferred them to another detention centre and then put them on one of about 20 buses headed to northern Syria.

Another man, from Aleppo, who had been living in Gaziantep in southeast Turkey since 2013, told HRW that he had been detained after he and his brother had gone to the police to complain about an attack to their shop. According to the man, the police transferred them to a foreigners’ deportation centre, held them there for six days and forced them to sign a deportation form without telling them what it was. They were then forcibly returned to Azaz in Syria via a border gate near the southeastern town of Kilis. 

The human rights watchdog said it also had spoken by two men who had said the Turkish coast guard and police had intercepted them at checkpoints near the coast as they had tried to reach Greece. The men said they had been deported to Idlib after the police had coerced them into signing and fingerprinting voluntary repatriation forms.