Syrian refugees detained and forcibly repatriated from Lebanon and Turkey
Economic crisis and unemployment are fuelling local resentment. Turkey has told a thousand refugees to leave. In Beirut, more and more immigrants have been summarily laid off, and refugees have been forced to sign repatriation forms.
Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Immigration authorities in Turkey and Lebanon have begun rounding up hundreds of Syrian refugees in recent weeks in order to expel them to parts of Syria that are still caught up in civil war.
The fear is that the two governments, hit by economic crises and domestic problems in managing refugees, might be on the verge of mass deportation that will endanger the lives of refugees.
Last weekend, more than 1,000 Syrians detained in Istanbul were given 30 days to leave.
Some refugees said they went through three detention facilities, their mobile phones confiscated, held incommunicado from families, human rights activists, and lawyers, and forced to sign papers saying they “voluntarily” agreed to return to war-ravaged areas of Syria.
Turkey’s economic crisis. rising unemployment, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s declining popularity are behind the decision to send back refugees.
At the beginning of Syria’s civil war, Turkey had opened its borders to refugees in the name of a shared Muslim identity.
Now the scale and scope of the detention and expulsions, activists warn, are a sign of a "reversal" of the open-door policy, which had allowed five million refugees to come to Turkey.
Meanwhile, in Beirut, several mostly undocumented Syrian immigrant refugees have said that they were summarily dismissed from their jobs in early July following a new government decree giving priority to Lebanese workers.
In justifying their action, Lebanese authorities claim that the war in neighbouring Syria was over for all intents and purposes, and thus safe for returnees, this despite warnings by local NGOs.
Lebanon is currently experiencing an acute economic crisis. One quarter of its small population of a few millions is made up of refugees.
At the beginning of the Syrian conflict, both Turkey and Lebanon backed the fall of President Bashar al-Assad and regime change, but now look to the situation with a more pragmatic view.
In both, tensions are running high, and many locals blame refugees and migrants for their country’s economic problem and lack of employment.
Lebanon’s Labour Minister, Camille Abousleiman, said he was “simply applying the law”, promoting local employment and regulating foreign employment.
Gökçe Ceylandağ, a spokesperson for Turkey’s migration directorate, denied that Syrians were being forced back. “Syrians are not sent back except in cases of voluntary repatriation.”
However, a UN staff member noted that “We hear constant reports of refugees being forced to sign that form.” For her part, Liz Throssell, a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, said that “Politically, this is very sensitive.”