Turkish authorities have arbitrarily arrested, detained, and deported hundreds of Syrian refugees to the war-torn neighbouring country between February-July 2022, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday.
In a violation of international law, Turkish authorities have rounded up hundreds of Syrian refugee men and boys, “even unaccompanied children,” and “forced them back to northern Syria,” Nadia Hardman, refugee and migrant rights researcher at HRW, said, a claim denied by the country’s authorities.
Turkey is home to some 3.7 Syrian migrants, the largest in the world, which arrived following the civil war in Syria in 2011. The demographic has been faced with a wave of xenophobia in Turkey, with anti-refugee sentiment being bolstered by the country’s high unemployment rate and ailing economy.
The Syrian migrants were arrested in homes, workplaces, and on the street, and kept in police custody under poor conditions, where they were beat and and forced them to sign voluntary return forms, HRW said.
Moreover, Turkish authorities drove them to border crossing points with northern Syria from where they were forced across at gunpoint, according to the international human rights watchdog.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in May announced a stark change in tone on Ankara’s long-held migrant policy when he said Ankara was working on a new project to facilitate the voluntary return home of some 1 million Syrian refugees living in the country. The announcement arrives as Turkey counts down to next year’s election with the issue of Syrian migrants having become a political tool at the hands of the government and opposition.
The head of Turkey’s Migration Management Directorate has rejected HRW’s claims as being entirely baseless.
“Turkey carries out migration management in accordance with national and international law,” Savaş Ünlü, said in a letter to HRW.
The HRW report arrives days afterTurkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said that over 500,000 Syrian migrants had returned home since the beginning of the war as he praised Turkey’s efforts to stop new migration waves.
Some 43,000 Syrian migrants had returned home since between January 2021 and September 2022, according to Soylu.