Turkish ultra-nationalists attack rights groups demonstration against Syria deportations

Turkish ultra-nationalists attack rights groups demonstration against Syria deportations
The Istanbul protest was staged in solidarity with Syrian refugees against a recent government crackdown that has reportedly seen hundreds deported to war-torn Idlib.
3 min read
27 July, 2019
Around a hundred people participated in the protest [Getty]

Turkish nationalists attacked a protest staged by rights organisations in Istanbul against the country's recent deportation of hundreds of Syrians, local media reported.

Amid increasing racism and intolerance against some 3.6 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey, local NGOs on Saturday organised a demonstration attended by around a hundred people outside of the Istanbul municipality headquarters.

Eyewitnesses said on social media that nationalists stormed the protest, shouting Turkish nationalist slogans.

The protest was organised by refugee and human rights organisations the Free Thought and Education Rights Association (OZGUR-DER), the International Refugee Rights Foundation, the Lawyers Association, and the Solidarity Association for Human Rights and the Oppressed (MAZLUMDER). 

It is thought to be the first protest of its kind against the reported deportation of at least 400 Syrian refugees to war-torn Idlib.

While Turkey's government denies the allegation, reports by major news outlets including Reuters and The Washington Post cite interviews with Syrians who say they were deported, despite holding temporary protection status.

Human Rights Watch has also verified the reports, speaking with Syrians detained by the authorities in locations across Turkey and returned to Idlib

Syria Weekly: Turkey's image as 'Syria protector' suffers following 'forced deportations' to Idlib 

Advocates say the deportations constitute a violation of the principle of non-refoulement, a standard of international law that dictates that countries should not deport refugees to countries where they are liable to be subject to persecution.

Idlib is majority-controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other radical groups and has since late April suffered an intensive aerial bombardment campaign that has left more than 700 dead and 300,000 displaced.

The Istanbul Governorate last week announced Syrians without valid temporary protection IDs registered in the city would have until 20 August before they were forcibly moved to refugee camps or provinces elsewhere in the country.

With hashtags such as #WeDon’tWantSyrians and #SyriansF*ckOff trending on Twitter in recent weeks, many Turks are supportive of the government's crackdown.

When a group of local rights organisations staged a protest in solidarity with Syrian refugees on Saturday in Istanbul, they were met by Turkish ultra-nationalists.

Nationalist counter-protesters raise their hands using the Grey Wolves' gesture [AFP]

The counter-protesters shouted the slogan "How happy is the one who says I am a Turk", a famous phrase first used by Turkey's founder Ataturk.

In a video distributed on social media, the counter-protesters are seen making a hand gesture associated with Turkey's Grey Wolves, an ultra-nationalist organisation characterised as fascist by some analysts.

Pro-Syrian refugee demonstrators replied "Migrants are under Allah's protection" and "Long live brotherhood, down with fascism", according to local media.

The police reportedly used pepper spray against the national counter-protesters, at least two of whom were later arrested.