Officials deny reports of Syrians being deported as anti-refugee sentiments grow in Turkey

Hassan, a Syrian undergoing medical treatment in Turkey, was on his way to renew his documents when he was stopped at a police checkpoint in the nation’s southern Hatay province.

“They asked me if I had an ID. I said no,” Hassan told Al-Monitor. Four days later he was sent to Syria’s Idlib province.

Speaking from Idlib, Hassan, whose name has been changed for security reasons, said he was given a temporary protection card when he first entered Turkey in 2013. He remained to work and support his family in Syria until 2016, when he voluntarily returned to Idlib and was asked to hand over his Turkish ID when he crossed the border gate.

While in Idlib, he said he developed a liver condition that worsened when he was detained and tortured by militant groups operating in the province. Following his release, Hassan returned to Turkey in the spring of 2019 for medical care. He began his treatment at private hospitals and to access more affordable state health care services, he needed to renew his temporary protection card, an identification document used by registered refugees in Turkey.

Then earlier this month, while on his way to the immigration office in Hatay, Hassan was detained by police and held, he claims, for four days without food. In the detention facility he was asked to sign a “voluntary return” form and was eventually sent back to Syria.

“[They] gave me a paper to leave Turkey and I was so afraid of the security officials that I almost collapsed,” Hassan said, adding that after he returned to Syria, he spent many days bedridden due to his illness.

Now he hopes to return to Turkey to complete his treatment and bring his family there, but fears he may be stuck in Idlib as more Syrian refugees arrive by the bus load after being stopped without identification documents.

Stories of forced deportations have multiplied in Turkey this summer as tensions continue to grow between Syrian refugees and their host communities. Accused of taking low-skilled jobs from Turkish citizens and not paying taxes for the businesses they operate, the Syrians’ initial welcome appears to be wearing thin in Turkey, where high unemployment and an economic downturn have aggravated relations.

Violent brawls have erupted in districts with high refugee concentrations and anti-Syrian rhetoric — from both of Turkey’s top political parties — during the recent Istanbul elections have brought long-simmering dissatisfaction with Syrians to the forefront of the national discourse.

In a July poll by the Piar Research group, more than 80% of respondents said hosting Syrians was not the government’s responsibility and that all 3.6 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey should be repatriated.

Turkish officials have begun to crack down on unregistered Syrians as well as those living outside the provinces where they are registered. While state leaders claim no Syrian refugees are being repatriated against their will, human rights groups have documented a number of deportation cases indicating otherwise.

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