Syrians targeted by Turkey's 'spiteful' deportation campaign
For the past few weeks, every newspaper in Turkey has updated the same figure: the number of Syrian refugees being deported.
Since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent election win, Ankara has intensified its campaign against 'irregular migrants', forcing Syrians to be deported at an unprecedented rate.
"I'd been living in Istanbul for six years when I went with my family to renew our residencies," begins Mustafa Al-Idlibi.
"My family's residencies were renewed but mine was rejected. Despite waiting for five hours, we were given no concrete reason. Suddenly I was ambushed by Turkish police, arrested, and detained," the student at the Turkish University of Karbok tells The New Arab.
"I saw Syrians being abused, piled on top of each other like animals, then forcefully deported the next day. They were made to sign a document with their fingerprint saying: 'We were not forced to return to Syria, we went voluntarily'"
The Turkish immigration authorities told Mustafa that he'd been working without a work permit. "This was over two and a half years ago," he explained. "It was only for two months and I needed to pay my school fees and support my family. My employer said he would get me a work permit, he must have lied."
Although Mustafa's father says he paid the fine, the young student's passport and residence permit were confiscated and he was sent to Istanbul's Tuzla Centre where he would be processed for deportation.
When Mustafa arrived at the Tuzla Centre, he says that he saw scores of people, including the elderly. "I met an old man who couldn't speak, the only words he knew were toilet and water." There he waited for 10 days, his family not knowing or hearing from him during this time.
"They [the Turkish authorities] didn't even check my file, all they did was transfer me to a camp in the Kilis — a border city between Turkey and Syria — where I waited more."
At Kilis, Mustafa says that he witnessed atrocities. "I saw Syrians being abused, piled on top of each other like animals, then forcefully deported the next day. They were made to sign a document with their fingerprint saying: 'We were not forced to return to Syria, we went voluntarily.' What I experienced at Kilis was horrifying. I still have nightmares today from the physical and psychological torture."
Turkey's campaign to deport Syrians comes after the Turkish president's pledge to 'voluntarily' return one million Syrian refugees after his election victory. Erdogan has made brutish appointments to fulfil this task with Turkey's new interior minister, governor of Istanbul, and the newly upheaved General Directorate of Migration all working together to keep this promise.
Salam Al-Ahmadi (name changed for security reasons) — who has been living in Turkey for more than nine years — says her husband's treatment was 'brutal.' "Vigilantes approached him and beat him with sticks, despite showing his valid identification papers. He was then detained in Urfa and then forced to leave through the Akçakale Tal Abyad crossing."
Activist Aqeel Al-Halabi tells The New Arab these deportations are both unsafe and against the law. "The Turkish government must provide protection to those who have the temporary protection card," Aqeel says.
Abboud Al-Nouf, who paid a smuggler $3,000 less than a year ago to enter Turkey with the aim of reaching Europe, was quickly apprehended by Turkish border guards while travelling through Edirne. He was one of many nationalities in the caravan: Afghans, Egyptians and Iraqis made up the bulk of the group.
Like Mustafa, Abboud was transferred to the Tuzla Centre where he says he was "beaten more viciously than when he was arrested by Syrian regime forces."
Syrians represent the largest number of refugees in Turkey. There are currently 1,206,153 Syrians in Istanbul alone; 670,988 have a residence permit, while 531,381 Syrians have a temporary protection card, and 3,784 have applied for international protection.
Mouneb Taim is a producer and journalist based in the Middle East from Damascus, Syria. He was awarded TPOTY's Photographer of the Year and ICFJ's Best Young Male Journalist in 2020.
Follow him on Twitter: @mouneb_taim