The Honeymoon between Syrian Refugees and the Erdogan Government Has Ended

Omar al-Muqdad

The Honeymoon between Syrian Refugees and the Erdogan Government Has Ended

Omar al-Muqdad – a prominent journalist, documentary filmmaker, and former Syrian refugee – writes a regular blog for CMS titled, “Dispatches from the Global Crisis in Refugee Protection.” This series covers the Syrian Civil War, the experiences of Syria’s immense and far-flung refugee population, the global crisis in refugee protection, religious persecution, and US refugee and immigration policies. Mr. al-Muqdad’s work has been featured by the BBC, CNN, and in many other media outlets. Resettled in the United States in 2012, Mr. al-Muqdad became a US citizen in Spring 2018. CMS features this series in its weekly Migration Update and on its website.

Turkey has long boasted of providing safe haven to Syrians in their times of need and treating them as its guests, not as refugees. But today, the Turkish government is pursuing a different path and taking extreme measures against refugees, including deportation to war-torn areas in Syria. According to local activists, it has even handed over Syrian refugees to jihadist groups in Idleb province. 

Many activists see this shift in policy as the end of Turkey’s “refugee business;” that is, its use of refugees as a tool to secure more funding and to facilitate its accession to the European Union (EU). Others see the shift as an attempt to exert pressure on the EU for still more support. In March 2016, the EU and Turkey reached an agreement to stop irregular migration through the Aegean Sea, and improve the conditions of more than 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. The EU pledged €6 billion ($7.44 billion) in funding for the refugees and promised to mobilize the second €3 billion ($3.72 billion) tranche by the end of 2018. And recently the European Commission adopted a new set of assistance measures worth €1.41 billion (nearly $1.6 billion) for refugees and host communities in Turkey.

In these circumstances, the Turkish crackdown came as a surprise to many refugees, who had developed a sense of security over the last six years and now find themselves in hiding from the Turkish police. Yet the presence of Syrian refugees in Turkey has become politically polarizing.  The AK party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames recent election losses in major cities on public opposition to its previous policies toward refugees, The AK Party and others now claim that the increasing number of Syrian refugees in the country negatively impacts the labor market and employment rates. Yet just last year, Turkish Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu said that Syrians do not hurt the Turkish economy or undermine security. In fact, they commit fewer violations and crimes than any other community, he said. 

Amro Daboul, a Syrian refugee, was detained for five days for trying to flee Turkey for Greece. While in prison, he was forced to sign his deportation documents, even though he was registered as a refugee with the United Nations in Ankara. He said that the Turkish police sent him back to Syria without any regard for his safety and his status. He had been under the “mechanism of temporary protection.” “The interrogator swore by God that there [would be] no deportation since I am a temporary protection cardholder,” he said. “I said to him, ‘I will read, and then I will sign.’” This response enraged him. “‘Go back to prison until you accept to sign,’ he shouted.”  Daboul said that he then succumbed “to the option of deportation rather than staying in prison.” He was deported from the Bab al-Salama crossing point on Tuesday, July 16, 2019, with a group of 40 other Syrians from various provinces.

According to Daboul, some of the Syrians jailed with him had been imprisoned for four months because they “refused to sign” their deportation documents. He also reported that an Afghan man had been mistakenly deported to Syria, and a 12-year-old Syrian child had also been deported.

The opportunism of the ruling class in these two countries and the desire to use a humanitarian crisis as a source of income has engendered a sense of betrayal among Syrian refugees who feel they were thrown into a war that they did not want and have been blamed for a situation that they did not choose.  Meanwhile, the deportations continue. Mazen Aloush, the spokesman at the Bab Alhawa crossing between Syria and Turkey, reports that in July 4,400 Syrians were deported at that crossing alone.  And many more refugee deportations are certain to follow.

August 7, 2019

Author Names

Omar al-Muqdad

Date of Publication August 7, 2019
DOI 10.14240/cmsesy080619