A Call for Justice and Protection for Syrian Refugees in Türkiye

“Don’t Deport. Don’t Kill.”

By Ammar Abdulhamid, elected WLC LC member.

In recent years, Türkiye has seen a troubling shift in its treatment of Syrian refugees. While the majority of Turkish citizens have historically welcomed and supported them, and Turkish authorities, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, initially adopted policies in their favor, the current wave of mob violence against Syrian refugees marks a stark and alarming change.

On Sunday, June 30, riots erupted in the southern city of Kayseri and quickly spread to other cities. Mobs destroyed and looted Syrian-owned businesses and attacked Syrians in their homes. In response, protests erupted in rebel-held areas along the Turkish border, leading Turkish authorities to close all checkpoints.

Several factors have contributed to this crisis:

• Deportation Campaigns: In recent weeks, central and local authorities have organized massive deportation campaigns, relocating Syrian refugees to poorly serviced encampments in northeastern Syria.

• Humanitarian Aid Restrictions: Humanitarian aid to Syrian communities hard hit by the February 2023 earthquake remains sporadic and insufficient due to restrictions imposed by Turkish authorities and the Assad regime.

• Incendiary Rhetoric: Both Turkish officials and opposition leaders have engaged in incendiary rhetoric aimed at Syrian refugees, especially during elections. 

• Scapegoating: Syrian refugees have been scapegoated for the failures of Turkish government officials and opposition groups to deliver on their development promises.

• Lack of Accountability: Crimes against Syrian refugees have often gone unpunished.

• Forced Recruitment: For years, the Turkish government has pressed young Syrian men into mercenary service, sending them to fight against Kurdish forces in Syria and to battlefields in Libya and sub-Saharan Africa.

• Data Leaks: A recent leak from the Turkish Ministry of Interior exposed the personal data of over 3.3 million Syrian refugees. Ultra-nationalist groups have shared this database on social media with messages such as “DEPORT OR KILL.” Turkish authorities were quick to blame a 14-year-old boy for the leak, but they do not explain how this child came into possession of a highly sensitive official database. 

• Normalization Talks: Turkish officials have been discussing normalizing relations with the Syrian regime without considering the implications for existing international resolutions, sanctions, and the impact on Syrian refugees and the broader Syrian population.

Given these developments, it is unsurprising that the crisis has reached a boiling point. As chaos spreads, Türkiye is facing severe repercussions, with Syrian refugees bearing the brunt. However, the worst outcomes can still be avoided.

What the International Community Should Do

The international community must take immediate and decisive action to address this crisis. Here are some recommendations:

1. Remind the Turkish Government of Its Obligations: The Turkish government must be reminded of its obligations to protect refugees. This includes safeguarding them from exploitation, data leaks, hate speech, race-baiting, and mob violence.

2. Maintain International Sanctions: The Turkish government must maintain international sanctions against the Syrian regime and abide by existing international resolutions regarding the Syrian conflict.

3. Condemn Deportations: The international community must emphasize the illegality of deporting Syrian refugees and call for an immediate halt to these actions.

4. Facilitate Humanitarian Aid: The Turkish government should be urged to facilitate the flow of humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees affected by the 2023 earthquake.

In short:

• Stop scapegoating Syrian refugees.

• Stop targeting Syrian refugees.

• Stop deporting Syrian refugees.

• Stop dehumanizing Syrian refugees.

• No to normalization with the Assad regime.

While one must acknowledge the economic, social, and political challenges of hosting millions of refugees indefinitely, we still need to bear in mind that we are dealing with refugees of warhere, not choice, and international rules regarding their treatment must be observed.

As a global community, we cannot stand idly by while Syrian refugees are subjected to violence and exploitation, not only in Türkiye, but also in Lebanon. It is our collective responsibility to ensure their safety and dignity. The time for action is now.

Ammar Abdulhamid is a Syrian-American activist based in Washington, D.C. He is the Parliamentarian and Director of Policy Research at the World Liberty Congress.

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