Turkish presidency aide rejects deportations of Syrians in Foreign Policy article

Fahrettin Altun, Turkish presidency's communications director, said Turkey rejected the allegations that Syrian refugees in the country faced deportation in an article published in Foreign Policy on Friday as a response to an earlier article penned by Kareem Chehayeb and Sarah Hunaidi.

Refugee advocates since early July have been accusing Turkish authorities of deporting Syrians in Turkey to Idlib after keeping them in detention and forcing them to sign voluntary return forms. 

Reuters last month interviewed five Syrians who said they had been deported to Idlib, while Human Rights Watch shared stories of four Syrians who were in Syria after being detained and forcibly returned there. BBC World News on Tuesday broadcast an interview with a Syrian man, who was deported to Idlib and managed to return Turkey by paying human smugglers $600.

Chehayeb and Hunaidi in their article accused Turkey of deporting Hisham Moustafa Steif al-Mohammed, a Syrian refugee before he was “killed by a Turkish sniper” as he attempted to cross the Turkish-Syrian border illegally. 

The Washington Post reported on Aug. 10 that the 21-year old Syrian refugee was arrested after the police raided his family’s apartment in Istanbul late one night in May and was deported several weeks later to Syria’s Idlib. Hisham was shot a few hundred yards away from the border wall where he stopped to pray while walking with other Syrians toward the Turkey border, according to his father, who told Washington Post he had spoken to a friend and a relative traveling with his son.

Altun said Chehayeb and Hunaidi’s article misrepresented Turkey’s policy toward Syrian refugees as a “deportation policy” and presented as fact uncorroborated claims about a specific individual.

“The Turkish government categorically rejects the allegation that Syrian refugees face deportation in Turkey,” Altun said. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s top aide said Turkey had been hosting 3.6 million Syrians due to its open-door policy that had started in 2011 and Syrians in Turkey had had access to public services after they had been registered by the authorities. 

The Turkish government launched an initiative in 2017 to ensure a more balanced distribution of refugees across the country, as some Syrians moved to other provinces leaving those they were registered upon arrival, Altun said. 

Turkey this week extended the deadline for Syrians in Istanbul to return to the province in which they registered upon arrival in the country to Oct. 30. Last month, Turkish authorities gave Syrian refugees not registered in Istanbul until Aug. 20 to leave for their original city of registration or face forcible return.

“The idea that Turkey, which has granted citizenship to some 102,000 Syrians and delivered $40 billion worth of goods and services to the Syrian civil war’s victims, would deport Syrian refugees is preposterous,” Altun said, adding that no fewer than 70,000 new refugees had been admitted since the beginning of 2019. 

Hisham was detained by the Turkish authorities in connection with a terrorism investigation and requested himself to be returned to Syria after spending several weeks in a temporary detention facility, Altun said. A voluntary repatriation form filled by Hisham was also signed by officials from the Turkish government and U.N. representatives, he said. 

Altun urged the international community to stop assigning blame to a country that has remained committed to helping Syrian refugees and to focus on the solution of the conflict in Syria instead.