HarekAct’s Weekly Digest 31/07/2019

22nd – 28th July

People getting deported from Küçükçekmece district, Istanbul .

Update concerning inhumane and unlawful deportations of Syrians | Condemn of deportations across broad range of civil society actors| Anti migrant discourse fueled by many politicians | Tense atmosphere in Istanbul | Turkey suspends readmission agreement with EU | Horrifying conditions at Harmandalı Removal Center | Report of 25 refugees who froze to death at the Turkish-Iranian border

Update concerning inhumane and unlawful deportations of Syrians

Following reports in the previous weeks about mass deportations of Syrians, several journalists and Institutions have published further details about the (ongoing) inhumane and unlawful deportations of Syrians living in Turkey. Rights groups in Istanbul claim that within one week between 600 and 1500 Syrians were wrongfully returned from Istanbul to Syria. It is reported, through discussions on social media and by people with contacts in the communities, that other migrant groups, particularly those who are living and working undocumented in Istanbul are also being targeted.

Condemn of deportations across broad range of civil society actors

Several Human rights organizations have harshly criticized the deportations in public statements.

In an interview, Mülteci-Der describes the deportations as a big crime and stresses that they’re a breach of the international laws which Turkey is committed to.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a statement supporting what HarekAct and others had previously described. HRW refers to interviews with several Syrians who are in Syria after having been detained and forcibly returned. “Turkey claims it helps Syrians voluntarily return to their country, but threatening to lock them up until they agree to return, forcing them to sign forms, and dumping them in a war zone is neither voluntary nor legal,” the associated Emergencies director says.

Similarly Refugees International states its grave concern of credible reports of deportations to the Syrian war zone of Idlib and demands the immediate halt of the deportations. In Idlib more than 100 civilians have been killed within the last two weeks.

Furthermore, several NGOs, Groups and Academics are criticizing the deportations. The Progressive Lawyer Association criticizes, amongst others, the silence of the international community, in particular the European Union and its member states. It states that Turkey has lost its status as a “safe country” for Syrian refugees and comments that “European Union member countries are becoming a partner in a crime against humanity by maintaining the readmission agreement with Turkey in order to keep immigrants out of their borders.”

Actions and statements for solidarity have been increasing in the last few days. As a further example “We Want To Live Together“, a new initiative bringing together a variety of activists and human rights groups, is calling for a press statement to be released on Friday in Istanbul. It makes a stand against lethal border policies and calls “for unconditional freedom of movement for everyone” to defend living together even in the “face of rampant racism”.

Anti migrant discourse fueled by many politicians

The recent crackdown on Syrians can be seen as the preliminary culmination of an anti migrant discourse which has been strengthened by the economic crises, was fed by the government and the opposition party politicians and led to attacks on Syrian neighborhoods to the point of lynchings and lootings, previously reported by HarekAct.  With regard to this issue Yeryüzü Postasi has criticized the political parties who support the discourse:

“While the government initiated an intense deportation policy, AKP, CHP (the main Kemalist opposition party), MHP (the major Turkish fascist party, pro-AKP) and IYIP (a second Turkish racist party which is more secular and allied with the CHP) are in a race of racism with each other. The anti-immigrant consensus established during the last local elections, coupled with CHP municipalities’ [CHP holds most municipalities in the Aegean and Mediterranean coastal towns] bans on Syrian’s access to the beaches or their actions such as cutting social aid going to immigrants clearly shows that all the parties of order are in unison in this anti-immigrant policy.”

Meanwhile, the ongoing anti Syrian discourse of key Turkish politicians is continuing further. Shortly after the Governorship of Istanbul set a deadline for many Syrians living in Istanbul to leave until 20 August, the Turkish minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu further fueled the xenophobic atmosphere commenting that Turkey would be “faced with a migration wave” and measures would be necessary to “prevent Turkey from turning into an illegal migration center.” He further underlined efforts to prevent immigrants from entering Turkey and announced the goal to deport an average of 80,000 people in 2019, which would be 40-50 percent higher than the previous years. 

While many scholars, NGOs and rights groups have condemned the recent developments, Murat Erdoğan, a prominent migration scholar in Turkey, has argued other reasons in line with the arguments of the government. In an article published last week he suggests that the state should already have taken measures to forcefully move people to assigned cities. Such comments align him with other authoritarian and state-allegiant commentators.

Besides the general restriction of basic rights, which would inevitably accompany his suggested actions, Murat Erdoğan neglects the reasons why people often avoid assigned cities. They move where they see their best opportunities to make a good living (as with other individuals), usually taking into consideration the place where they’re best able to care for themselves, find work, a decent education and services which best suit them. To live in such assigned cities in Turkey often hinders their integration. In addition, and once more in those cities, refugees often face racism and exploitation, find it impossible to source work, and miss certain infrastructure.

Tense atmosphere in Istanbul

Meanwhile the atmosphere in Istanbul is tense. A demonstration in support of refugees organized by civil society actors was described by participants as being accompanied by “really high provocation and tension”. According to them, police checked the ID at the entrance in order “not to allow Syrians to participate” but didn’t make much efforts to separate the arriving fascists from the demonstration.  Demonstrators shouted “Down with racism, long live brotherhood”, while the fascists answered “we are here as racists, we’ll stay racists” as well as “those here who are Turkist [Türkçü], will stay Turkist [Türkçü]”. Ahval reports two ultra-nationalists were detained when fascists attempted to attack the demonstration.


Alongside such incidents, racism and discrimination against Syrians continues to be reported on a regular basis in Istanbul. A sign of a shopkeeper adjusting the prices for consumers from Syria was shared on social media.

Turkey suspends readmission agreement with EU

The Turkish Government announced that the readmission agreement, and therefore the EU-Turkey Deal as such, has been suspended. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, speaking on a TV interview on Monday, said,  “We will not wait at the EU’s door. The readmission agreement and visa-free deal will be put into effect at the same time.” He further stated that Turkey will suspend its commitments to the deal.

It is not the first time that Turkey has put pressure on the EU and Greece, using the readmission scheme as a bargaining tool in response to a Greeks court’s decision to release eight soldiers, who had fled Turkey after the coup attempt in 2016. Since the EU-Turkey Deal came into force, 2,492 people have been deported from Greece to Turkey (of which 86 were deported in 2019). Deportation Monitoring Aegean witnessed the last deportation from Greece to Turkey taking place on 11 July and views this as an indication that the deportations have been suspended in practice.

The suspension of the EU-Turkey deal is a harsh setback for the EU, and Greece in particular. The new Greek Government recently announced an increase in the number of deportations, which had been decreasing since 2016. Together with EASO and the EU it is turning a blind eye to the obvious rights violations in Turkey, considering it to be a “safe third country”.

Developments in Bulgaria which could accelerated follow the same pattern as a result of the suspension of the EU-Deal, are reported on by Bordermonitoring Bulgaria. The article summarizes the situation in the last month, particularly at the Turkish-Bulgarian border. The cooperation between Bulgaria and Turkey is well established here and is supported by Frontex forces and equipment. Pushbacks from Bulgaria to Turkey, as well as pull-backs in Turkey are regularly reported. The article foresees that the suspension of the EU-Turkey deal will very likely lead to a more unsecure situation for the thousands of people who were forced to leave their home countries by force. 

Horrifying conditions at Harmandalı Removal Center

Bianet has published another report about the horrifying conditions at the Harmandalı Removal Center in Izmir province. The Center is one of the removal centers which was financed by the EU following the EU-Turkey statement. According to the testimonials of a security guard at the removal center, it is extremely overcrowded and people are forced to sleep on the floor. He describes how many of the refugees are mentally depressed, beatings by the wardens are not uncommon and there have reportedly been several suicide attempts. The guard further indicated that a death of an imprisoned woman was never investigated.

Lawyers recently reported on several incidents of torture in the Harmandalı Removal Center, most recently the abuse of a woman in July 2019.

Report of 25 refugees who froze to death at the Turkish-Iranian border

 Van Bar Association released a report on the 25 corpses of refugees they found between 1 April and 6 May revealed by the melting snow. According to the report 24 of the refugees had frozen to death and one person had been shot dead. Located close to the Iranian border, Van is a major transit route for people fleeing to Turkey.  It is unknown how many more victims of the Turkish border regime are still located in this region.