Fearing deportation, Istanbul’s Syrians keeping low profile -WSJ

For many Syrians in Istanbul life has become a cat-and-mouse trial to avoid arrest and deportation and many have been using precautionary tactics they had learned in Syria, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday. 

Following the AKP’s defeats in Turkey’s major provinces like Ankara and Istanbul in local polls on March 31, the Turkish government has stepped up measures against the Syrian population in Turkey, particularly in the country’s main financial hub, which is home to over 500,000.

The authorities first set an August 20 deadline for Syrian refugees in Istanbul to return to the Turkish province in which they registered on arrival or face forced return. The deadline was later extended to Oct. 30.

Meanwhile, Turkish police intensified controls and arrests of undocumented Syrians in Istanbul. While the Turkish government says arrested Syrians are placed in refugee camps for registration, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights more than 6,200 Syrians were deported back to northern Syria during last month’s crackdown.

 “We’re using the same tactics we learned in Syria,” told Muhammad Hamdoun, a 22-year old photographer, to the WSJ when explaining the measures he took to avoid arrest. 

Some 3.6 million Syrians are registered in Turkey under temporary protection status, but some estimates put the total number of Syrians, including a million unregistered, at more than 4.6 million. According to a recent survey of pollster Metropoll conducted in August, 75 percent of Turks oppose the government’s policies towards Syrian refugees. The results show 56 percent of the supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) disapprove Turkey’s refugee policy. 

Like many of his compatriots in Istanbul, Hamdoun takes detours to avoid checkpoints, dresses in a way that doesn’t stand out and is cautious when speaking on the phone or even at home, wary of who might be listening, the WSJ said. 

Ward Mardini, her husband and their two young children from Damascus arrived in Turkey last year via illegal ways. On order to avoid the crackdown, Mardini adopted the Turkish style of headscarf—wrapped high in the back and jutting out along the sides of the face, the WSJ said. 

But the police visited their home in Istanbul, demanding to see their documents. Mardini has applied for asylum in France, hoping they get accepted before the Turkish police come knocking again as their permit will expire in October.