28 October 2019 10:18

Returning refugees are called "volunteers" but forced back to war zone in Syria

Politicians have voiced their reactions to the plan to settle refugees in the safe zone, one of the justifications the AKP administration has put forward in justification for the military operation it has carried out east of the Euphrates.

Photograph: Göhan Balcı/AA


Meltem AKYOL

With debate raging over talk of setting up a safe zone and settling refugees there with which the power holders have regaled domestic and foreign public opinion to justify the operation they are conducting in the north of Syria, Amnesty International has accused the power holders in a report it has compiled of tricking or forcing hundreds of Syrian refugees into returning to Syria prior to the start of the operation.

Assessing the power holders’ comments and the Amnesty International report for our newspaper, CHP Deputy General Chair Veli Ağbaba recalled the anti-refugeeism that had formed in society and said the power holders were trying to pick up votes with talk of sending refugees packing. HDP Antep MP Mahmut Toğrul, in turn, stressed that by means of this policy there was an attempt simultaneously to open up space for the jihadist groups that were congregating on the border. Labour Party (EMEP) General Chair Selma Gürkan, underlining that forcibly returning refugees will not solve the problems, commented, “There is no inclination for voluntary return and there can be no return external to their will. Forcible ejection means either death on migration routes or illegal living or illegal work.”


Yesterday, Amnesty International published a report titled, “‘Sent to a war zone: Turkey’s illegal deportations of Syrian refugees.” In the report compiled from interviews with large numbers of people from July until now, it was alleged that the police in Turkey had forced certain Syrian refugees through beating or threatening them to sign forms in which they declared their wish to return voluntarily to their country.

There is no official data as to how many Syrian refugees have signed these documents and returned to their country, but by Amnesty International’s estimates “hundreds” of people have probably returned to Syria in this manner in past months. The report documents at least twenty verified cases of forced deportations.


CHP Deputy General Chair Veli Ağbaba said the power holders were trying to deliver a message to public opinion through refugees. Ağbaba commented, “Basic responsibility for four million refugees coming to Turkey rests with the AKP, and with Tayyip Erdoğan. Talk now of sending refugees packing is basically directed at domestic politics. We can list the reasons for this as follows: First the power holders are trying to engender forgetfulness about the 180-degree zig-zags in Syrian policy. Second, refugees are now costing votes. Remember the Istanbul elections. When they realized in the immediate aftermath of those elections that refugees were costing votes, they started to talk about sending refugees home. Previously, by contrast, they had spoken of the ‘brotherhood of the Ansar’ or ‘guests.’

Basically also to get support for this operation they premised it on talk of sending refugees packing. This is in all the rhetoric. It must be underlined that it is impossible for the area they call the safe zone to accommodate one million people, either. In other words, this is a manipulation aimed at turning anti-refugeeism in their favour.”

Saying there was no question of refugees going in the short term, Ağbaba remarked, “They say they will go there and make social housing. I mean, this is a bit like making a squatter settlement on somebody else’s rightful property. For one thing, you cannot do this without negotiating with the government there. It is impossible for refugees to return without the approval of the Syrian government. You cannot forcibly eject refugees; the conditions there have to mend and the Syrian government has to give a guarantee to the refugees here. And, in any case, this is also impossible without securing full peace in Syria. And nobody is going to go there with you suddenly saying, ‘Off you go – We’ve made a house.’ All the research in fact shows this.”


For his part, HDP Antep parliamentarian Mahmut Toğrul placed the emphasis elsewhere. Saying, “One of Turkey’s aims is a switching of towns and a changing of demographic structure among the Kurds by upsetting the demographic structure,” Toğrul noted, “I mean, there is an attempt not just to create an Arab belt within Syria, but also a belt on the Turkish side. Especially in the period in which these clashes started nearly one hundred thousand people in Nusaybin and Ceylanpınar on the Turkish side relocated. And they were removed from their regions particularly at the prompting of civil service administrators. I am personally plagued by the thought that in the days to come the aim is to settle refugees in these regions. With President Erdoğan also saying, ‘We will settle refugees here,’ everyone has started to think that the refugees in Turkey will be settled there. It is basically my opinion that there was a need to open a space for the jihadist groups in Idlib.

At the same time, there are elements called the National Syrian Army. I am of the view that there is an attempt to open up space for them. We will see in the days to come. A relocation operation will start within Syria itself especially in conjunction with the expansion of the central government’s area.”

Pointing out that the refugee issue had been used since 2015 in particular by the power holders as a factor for threatening Europe, Toğrul commented, “When it comes to a lasting settlement of the problem we must see the following: First, normalization must absolutely be brought about in Syria. That is, the peoples living in Syria must decide on Syria’s fate and the problem must be resolved.”


Labour Party (EMEP) General Chair Selma Gürkan recalled that, as part of its “neo-Ottomanist” dreams, the AKP administration had irresponsibly opened the borders and encouraged refugees to cross after 2011 when civil war started in Syria. Gürkan remarked, “The government and Erdoğan, who are responsible for creating the refugee problem as a component of involvement in the Syria war, subsequently used the current refugees as a trump card to gain acceptance in the international arena for their policy and, not satisfied with this, threatened to open the gates and send the refugees to Europe. They aimed to prevent the Kurds, whom they perceived to be a threat to them domestically, from attaining status in Syria by means of the Arab corridor they tried to open and to secure power in the region by championing some sort of political formation centred around the FSA and Arab tribes. Domestically, by contrast, racism and chauvinism have been whipped up and the objective is to obtain the political support of Sunni Muslim circles with sectarian policies and social chauvinism and consolidate their current position.”

Pointing out that refugees should never be turned into a matter for bargaining or threat either in domestic politics or international relations, Gürkan said, “The power holders, in hiding their own responsibility and delivering the message to the citizenry, ‘We are actually waging war to send the Syrians back home,’ are aiming both to obtain support for the operation decision and to recover declining popular support. We, the Labour party, perceive refugee workers and wage earners to be part of the Turkish working class and say that they must have equal rights and refugee status. We do not deem it correct for there to be a return of refugees external to their will, having negotiated with Assad or not and through duress or incentive, and their being settled in regions marked out for the purpose of population engineering as a component of expansionist policies. Just as this will not solve the problems, it will push refugees towards new death routes or compel them to live illicitly or work illicitly. This will not solve the problems and will even usher in bigger problems.”

(Translated by Tim DRAYTON)