Syrians in Turkey complain of intensified police checkpoints: ‘It’s like living in a prison’

A Syrian woman and her children walk on a street near shops in Gaziantep, in the south-west province of Turkey, on May 1, 2018. - In the Turkish city of Gaziantep, home to around half a million Syrians who fled the civil war south of the border, hundreds of Syrian businesses are thriving in a boost both for the displaced community and their host country. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP)

In recent months many unregistered Syrian refugees in Turkey or those who live in provinces other than where they are officially registered have been stranded inside their homes due to an increased frequency of police operations and ID checks that put them at risk of detention and deportation, BBC Turkish service reported.

Yaser was detained incommunicado in İstanbul for three days before he was released on the condition that he and his family return to Ankara, where they are registered. The family had been living in İstanbul for the last five years when Yaser was detained during a police ID check at his workplace.

“On every street that I walked, I used to look around to see if there were any police officers, assessing possible escape routes,” Yaser said, speaking to BBC.

According to Interior Ministry data, some 173,000 irregular migrants have been apprehended over the last six months, a significant increase compared to the overall yearly figure of 285,000 in 2022.

A total of 97 mobile migrant checkpoints were set up in 30 large cities, which resulted in the deportation of 47,000 people.

Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya vowed in a statement that the country would no longer be a destination or a transit route for migration.

Although a party to the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees, Turkey retains a geographical limitation to its treaty obligations, which rules out granting refugee status to people arriving from outside of Europe.

As a result, asylum seekers from neighboring Syria were granted “temporary protection,” a status that is seen as precarious and subject to arbitrary restrictions, with no predictable path to naturalization.

Since 2019 Syrians have been gradually prohibited from obtaining temporary protection in large cities, presumably the only places where they have some access to the job market.

Maheer, a 23-year-old who arrived six months ago to receive treatment for the burns on his face that were caused by an explosion, said he has not left the house since he went grocery shopping two months ago because the capital city of Ankara is no longer accepting new temporary protection applications.

“I once got bored and wanted to go out for a walk but was intercepted by a police officer who asked for my papers,” Maheer said. “He then looked at my burnt face, felt sorry and told me not to hang around there.”

Naser, a 16-year-old who lost his family and has nowhere to go, said he is now unable to go to school because he has no ID documents.

“I have no hope and no plans for the future. I don’t go outside unless I have something important to do. It’s like living in a prison,” he said.

Two years ago, a fatal stabbing that killed a Turk during a fight between Turkish and Syrian young men triggered intercommunal tensions in Ankara that went on for weeks.

Tamim, who has been living in Turkey for 10 years, described the incident as a turning point after which police ID checks intensified and Syrians were prevented from changing their address even with a valid status in the province.

Amid the worsening in Turkey’s economy, right-wing segments of the Turkish opposition have been instigating anti-migrant sentiment among the public, which led to many incidents of hate crimes resulting in injury or death.

Cornered by the opposition and the unease among its own voter base, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been compelled to announce more stringent measures as well as “voluntary return” programs. Human rights advocates have accused the authorities of coercing the migrants to sign voluntary return documents under torture.

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