The situation of Syrian refugees in Turkey is anything but certain. They must be integrated, learn the language and find their place in society, while not knowing if they can stay at all. Several reports show that Syrians are being deported against their will.
In early November 2019, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to discuss the plan on building refugee cities in northern Syria. Guterres then pointed out the importance of voluntary and safe return. He also instructed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to, in cooperation with the Turkish Government, an investigation on how these issues can be resolved. According to Erdogan, the safe zones - dedicated to at least two million Syrian refugees - are planned to be established in northeastern Syria. The area once belonged to Kurdish militias, but Turkey took control of it in connection with its military campaign, which began in October 2019.
At the same time as the government in Ankara has said that about 350 Syrians have voluntarily left Turkey, Amnesty shows in a report from the fact that Turkey has deported Syrians illegally. This happened, among other things, during the summer and autumn of 2019, before the military operation started. Threats and violence are said to have been used to force people to sign documents emphasizing that they are leaving the country voluntarily. Similar stories were published by Human Rights Watch in July 2019. A month ago, The Guardian also released a story pointing to these ambiguities.
People in Turkey are generally restrained in what they think and do not like to express their opinions on the subject. Being critical of the regime is seldom profitable and one can almost take on the tensions that the issue generates. The return as well as the military campaign is part of a larger issue of power within the nation. I belong to actors who are active in the field and ask how they view Turkish opinion and get answers from a person who works with the integration of young Syrians. The person in question chooses to remain anonymous due to association with their organization and the political content of the answer:
- It is not easy for Turkey to receive so many people, it is not easy for any country. In the beginning, everyone was generous and wanted to help, today it looks different. Many complain that Syrians are taking jobs that could otherwise be given to the Turkish population. But they have no choice, many are forced to accept jobs just to survive.
The multimedia agency Voice of America reported in late October how several Syrians since 2011 have managed to create a new life in Turkey and want to stay. Some have been able to send their children to university and have been integrated into Turkish society. However, attention is also paid to those who have not managed to get a job and live with debt. Some of these people live in difficult circumstances and instead hope for the opportunity to return.
When I ask the same person as before questions about the stated plan for refugee cities and voluntary return, I am told that:
- This is a process that is not in the near future. Although everyone from Syria is legally only here temporarily, they can not apply for citizenship without special exceptions. But several organizations are in dialogue with government agencies where many believe that the Syrians are here to stay. A situation that Turkey now has to deal with.
According to Turkish law, the approximately 3,5 million Syrians who fled to Turkey are not seen as refugees. Instead, they are classified as asylum seekers or conditional refugees, which means that each individual must formalize their continued stay via a residence permit or work permit.
This type of conditional refugee status is part of the restrictions in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention that granted refugee status to European refugees in the wake of World War II. This status was extended in 1967 to include refugees worldwide, but Turkey then chose to retain the geographical restriction to European refugees. In practice, this means that if the Syrians themselves want to see themselves as refugees and relocated to a third host country, that task falls entirely into the hands of the UN refugee agency UNHCR.