“The last thing we lose is hope and as a saying goes: those who persevere, triumph”
Robin, Istanbul; November 2019
* Spanish version below / versión en español abajo
by Gianmaria Lenti (Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City, Mexico) & Bernardo López Marín (La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia)
This anthropological study focuses on the experiences and realities of Latin American migrants who are stuck in Turkey in irregular situation. They represent a large, but virtually invisible population due to their absence in official statistics and migration studies, although their arrival to the country is not a new trend. The majority of them have had their rights undermined and are exposed to abuse, difficulties and deprivation as a result of their irregular immigration status. Some of them find it hard to get jobs or, become the cheap labor that underpins the capitalist system of labor exploitation. Many Latin Americans migrants refrain from seeking help from the humanitarian system, since many of them do not know their rights, only speak Spanish, come from disadvantaged social strata or never achieved a higher educational level. Moreover, many humanitarian organizations deny them access to certain services for fear of reprisals from the authorities as a result of their irregular status.
district in Istanbul hosts many different life circumstances, constraints and
possibilities which collide in uneven, fragmented often contradictory ways. It
has been home to a substantial Afghan population since 1983, when the Turkish
government invited in a few hundred people during the conflict with the Soviet
Union, mainly the Turkmen and Uzbek Afghans who Turkey considers ‘ethnic
brothers’. Today the population is a mix of migrants (recent, first and second
generation) including Afghans, Turkmen, Uighurs, Kazaks, Tajiks, Iranians,
Pakistanis and Syrians, economic migrants from other parts of Turkey (Adana,
Urfa, Trabzon, Konya), and Turkish citizens who have been living in the neighbourhood
for many decades. The bowels of the street to the sky are marked by capital
transactions, which create counterposing lifestyles existing side-by-side. The
steady erection of luxury sea-view million lira apartment blocks are intended
to attract Arab investors to the area (a $250k property purchase buys you a
Turkish passport, and while Iraqis are currently the country’s biggest
investors, these buildings in Zeytinburnu, one emlakçı (estate agent)
told us, are being aimed at Gulf investors). They are being constructed
alongside unstable infrastructure constructed illegally in the 1970s where
multiple families now live together, and others of migrant dormitories where
beds are rented per hour. According to another Afghan emlakçı working
there, “Normally if an apartment rent is 1200 (TL), it costs 1500-1700 (TL) for
them [foreigners] because two families, between 10 and 12 people, will stay in
one apartment [2
+ 1 apartment for five people].” Below
the street, visible in vents and airways along the gutters, the clicks of textile
machines signal the exploited, mainly migrant, workforce.
introduction of city-wide municipality regulations in June 2019 which stated
that 75 percent of street signs had to be in Turkish there were many Farsi and
Arabic letters lining the streets, which have now been removed; images of
Afghan style haircuts, food (huge Afghan melons are imported by air, sold for
60 Turkish lira), Afghan and Turkmen flags still remain visible. According to
the Mukhtar of Nuri Paşa neighbourhood, one within the district, there are
“Afghan, Uighur lokantas, Syrian bakkals and market. The butcher in front
of us is Afghan. If you go down the street there are Afghan Uighur restaurants.
If you exit Çarşamba Pazar there are
Syrian real estate agents, bakkals
and grocery stores. There are all kinds of trade, they usually shop from each
other.” The Mukhtar invokes the idea of a cosmopolitan and harmonious community.
But global structural tendencies are also intruding into the space, through capitalism,
the businesses which have been created by repercussions of global migration
management regimes (from smuggling to humanitarian), the internalisation of
different visions of hospitality, belonging, nationalism, and the increasing
insecurity and anxiety prompted by the heightened deportations which had
started to intensify in the weeks around the time of the interviews in mid
Reports of human rights groups on Turkey’s ‘forced’ voluntary return practices and ‘unsafe’ safe-zone not welcomed by Turkish officials | EU mobilises millions of Euros to Turkey for increasing migration control | Still, and once again, Erdoğan threatens the EU with refugees | Increasing crossings also on the Greek-Turkish land border | Bulgaria’s response to irregular crossings at Bulgarian-Turkish border
Reports ofHuman Rights Groups on Turkey’s ‘Forced’ Voluntary Peturn Practices and ‘Unsafe’ Safe-Zone not Welcomed by Turkish Officials
The Turkish state’s attempt to remove Syrian refugees to so-called safe-zone in Northern Syria have been proven to be unrighteous by several reports released in the past weeks, as the deadline given to unregistered Syrians to leave Istanbul, 30 October, approached.
Human Rights Watch’s report details the hostile and unlawful treatment involved in the arbitrary deports and detentions of Syrians in Istanbul and Antakya between January and September 2019. The report underlines that a significant number of Syrians are being deported against their will to one of the most dangerous areas in Syria, Idlib, where at least 1,089 civilians have been killed since April. HRW invites Turkey’s Interior Ministry to ensure that Turkish authorities do not use violence against Syrians or other detained foreign nationals and to hold any officials using violence to account. – 24.10.2019
Amnesty International’s report also accuses Turkish authorities of forcibly deporting hundreds of Syrian refugees back to war-torn areas in the north of Syria, by using threats, force and deception. The report includes testimonies of refugees who were beaten into signing ‘voluntary return’ documents, and others who signed in order to receive blankets from detention centres. “Returns until now have been anything but safe and voluntary – and now millions more refugees from Syria are at risk” says Anne Shea from AI. – 25.10.2019
HarekAct Newsletter | Turkey’s invasion of Syria | Rise in arrivals on the Greek islands | This was not an accident! – Fire in Moria | Horrible conditions for refugees on the Greek islands | Seven Turkish citizens died in shipwreck off Chios | Legal Analysis on the third anniversary of the EU-Turkey deal
We have been closely following
the political escalations in Turkey that ended in the recent invasion of
Northern Syria, but we have not been able to publish a news digest in the last
few weeks. At the beginning of the month we published our newsletter covering
the developments over the summer month:
“The official migration policy in Turkey has shifted in the summer months. The government has made serious alterations in its treatment of Syrians and other migrants in the country in response to increasing domestic pressure caused by anti-migrant sentiments, and as a means of political leverage to force the EU into supporting their plans for a ‘safe-zone’ buffer in North Syria. Just recently president Erdoğan emphasized his plans of sending up to three million Syrians in these so called ‘safe-zones’. Mid-July witnessed the start of an intense deportation campaign to the regions of north Aleppo and Idlib, which goes to show how serious Erdoğan is about his plans. In early September 2019, Erdoğan announced to “open the gates to Europe” should the EU not provide further financial support for the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in the country. Meanwhile, the number of migrants arriving to the Greek islands has already increased immensely during the summer months.”
The official migration policy in Turkey has shifted in the summer months. The government has made serious alterations in its treatment of Syrians and other migrants in the country in response to increasing domestic pressure caused by anti-migrant sentiments, and as a means of political leverage to force the EU into supporting their plans for a ‘safe-zone’ buffer in North Syria. Just recently president Erdoğan emphasized his plans of sending up to three million Syrians in these so called ‘safe-zones’. Mid-July witnessed the start of an intense deportation campaign to the regions of north Aleppo and Idlib, which goes to show how serious Erdoğan is about his plans. In early September 2019, Erdoğan announced to “open the gates to Europe” should the EU not provide further financial support for the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in the country. Meanwhile, the number of migrants arriving to the Greek islands has already increased immensely during the summer months.
Migrants on target of hate: mob violence in Adana and people assisting detentions in Istanbul | Festus Okey Case: Family’s participation is postponed | Erdogan insists on ‘safe zone’ while Greece insists on migration control | Further claims of ill-treatment in Harmandali detention center | Hunger strike of political refugee from Turkey | Returns and arrivals around the Aegean
Migrants on Target of Hate: Mob Violence in Adana and People Assisting Detentions in Istanbul
Residents of Mahmutbey neighborhood in Bağcılar district of Istanbul called the police around 22:00 on 19 September to inform them of noises coming from a workplace. After breaking into the workplace, police forces found a group of migrants inside. Some of the migrants resisted being arrested, the police asked for reinforcements and citizens involved themselves in assisting the capture of migrants who tried to run away. According to Diken, 108 migrants were arrested in total, as citizens applauded and cheered on the police (in Turkish) – 19.09.2019.
On the same night, a similar public unrest turned into an organized attack against Syrians, in the Dumlupınar nieghborhood of Adana province. A mass of locals became mobilized, violently attacking shops and houses of Syrians after an alleged incident of a child abuse. Like many other previous incidents, rumors spread quickly that the perpetrator was a Syrian. However, when the alleged perpetrator was later arrested, the Governorship of Adana released a statement saying he is considered to be a citizen of Turkey – 19.09.2019.
Human Rights Association (IHD) released a report following the violent attacks in Adana. The report concluded that 162 shops and 12 vehicles were ravaged while the police waited a long time before intervening. 25 people were arrested in relation to the attacks. But many Syrians in the neighborhood are still afraid to leave their houses and some have already left the area. According to some testimonies gathered in the report, the group leading the attack had come from outside of the neighborhood and police allowed them to march. Syrians’ shops were tagged with “Turk” and “TC” marks, and most of the open shops in the area hung Turkish flags after the incident.
Hatred towards Syrians in Turkey is also documented by another report, the 2018 Report on Hateful and Discriminating Discourse in Media, prepared by the Foundation of Hrant Dink (named after the Armenian journalist who was assassinated in 2007). Among the groups who are most frequently targeted by hate speech, Syrians come in the third place after Jews and Armenians.
Festus Okey Case: Family’s Participation is Postponed
After the legal case into his murder was reopened last December, the lawyers of Festus Okey travelled to South Africa to meet his family and gather the necessary documents to demand the family’s participation in the proceedings. On the third hearing, which was held on 19 September, the reports which document the DNA profiles of Okey’s family members were finally brought to court. However, the court ruled in favour of deferring the decision about the family’s participation under the pretext of requiring additional documents that are expected from the Ministry of Justice and Interpol Department. The next hearing will be held on 15 January. (See more in Turkish) – 19.09.2019.
Erdogan insists on ‘safe zone’ while Greece insists on migration control
Greece’s new right-wing Prime Minister, who has been fervent in focusing on migrants in his country via frequent arrests and evictions, has reacted to Erdogan’s threats to open the borders. Kyriakos Mitsotakis sent a warning to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, telling him not to threaten Greece and Europe in order to secure more money from the European Union, DW reports. Moreover, the Foreign Minister of Greece addressed the issue in a meeting in Berlin on 16 September with his German counterpart. At the joint statement released following the talks, Greek authorities were praised for the steps taken to address the ‘migration problem’, whereas Ankara was urged to stick with the EU-Turkey deal for migrant returns.
On the same day, Erdogan reiterated his safe zone plans through comments he made after talking with presidents of Russia and Iran. As BBC reported, he said that up to three million Syrian refugees could return to their country to live in a “safe zone” in the north. Erdogan said the zone – which is already being set up in co-operation with the US – needed to be extended in order for the goal to be met. – 16.09.2019
Further Claims ofIll-treatment in Harmandali Detention Center: According to Sendika.org, a migrant (with the initials A.İ) was exposed to torture and subsequently started a hunger strike in Izmir’s Harmandali Detention Center. The lawyer stated that his client might have been tortured because of denouncing the drug trafficking in the detention center – 11.09.2019.
Returns and Arrivals Around the Aegean
In Lebanon, rights activists and refugees themselves fear that they’re witnessing a wide government crackdown designed to increase pressure on Syrian refugees in Lebanon to return home. Between 21 May and 28 August, more than 2,730 Syrianswere sent back under the new rule, according to statistics released by General Security, a government intelligence agency that handles foreign residents. See more here.
The Guardian addresses how the infrastructure on the Aegean islands is now at breaking point, taking Moria as an example. The main camp in Lesvos, which was orginally designed for 3,000 people, is hosting 10,400 people. An aid worker from the island comments
“This is a policy-driven crisis where the EU has sought to contain and externalise the problem [of migration] to the Greek isles. The EU-Turkey deal was supposed to be a ‘temporary and extraordinary measure’ to reduce flows and open safe legal alternatives to smugglers. Instead it has created camps where people are robbed of their dignity and forced to live in horrendous conditions.”
Hunger Strike of Political Refugee From Turkey: Deniz Reşit Pınaroğlu, a political refugee from Turkey began a hunger strike in the beginning of September to protest the detention center he is being held in Torino, Italy.
“I have been held in a camp called CPR in Torino for the last month. I have been subjected to a series of unlawful practices and I am being held here unlawfully.The policemen of Piacenza who caught and brought me here told me that I was to stay here for 2 days. Without being provided a lawyer or a translator they have made me sign some documents in Italian and brought me here to this camp in Torino by lying to me.”
New York Times Reporter Carlotta Gall has gathered the accounts of Syrians in Gaziantep, following Erdogan’s announcements of his plan to open a safe zone and relocate a million refugees in Syria. It is reported that vans and buses of Syrian refugees are arriving almost hourly at the border crossing near the town of Kilis, and that the police are depositing unregistered refugees directly across the border. Syrians see the new policies as being aimed at making them leave. “They need to make us think it is better to go back to the safe zone,” says one of the interviewees.
Syrians in Istanbul are using tactics similar to those they learned back home to avoid being hunted and to stay in Turkey, Raja Abdulrahim writes for WSJ. For example she reports how one young woman prefers wearing the headscarf in Turkish style, and a photographer wears shorts above the knee on the few days he dares to leave his house. “Early during the uprising against the Syrian regime, activists created WhatsApp message groups to send out warnings about army checkpoints or security raids. Now they send similar alerts about patrols in Istanbul and neighborhoods to avoid, said Abdulqader Laheeb, a Syrian journalist in Istanbul.“
Erdoğan plays the refugee card once again towards EU to push for his safe-zone goal | Migrant children are not registered in schools in Istanbul | Refugees on hold in Van Bus station | Uighurs in Turkey increasingly live in fear of deportation despite the ‘brotherhood’ accorded to them so far | The Political Economy of Discrimination in Turkey | Turkey’s politics towards Syrians from left to right: From the perspective of a Syrian Turkmen | Report on the racism and discrimination towards LGBTI+ Refugees
Erdoğan plays the refugee card once again towards EU to push for his safe-zone goal
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened European countries with opening the borders if the long-awaited safe zone in northern Syria is not established. “Give us logistical support and we can go build housing at 30km (20 miles) depth in northern Syria. This way, we can provide them with humane living conditions” Erdoğan said, adding: “Either you will provide support, or excuse us, but we are not going to carry this weight alone. We have not been able to get help from the international community, namely the European Union.”
19th August – 1st September 2019 (This digest covers a two week period)
Increasing arrivals of migrants to the Greek Aegean islands | Greece’s response to the rise in arrivals | New report on mistreatment of asylum seekers in Greece | Afghan minor killed in Moria | Updates on the Deportations of Syrians from Turkey | Syrians walk towards Turkish border in protest against shelling by Syrian and Russian forces | Sea Rescue by Turkish Merchant Vessel | Perspectives
Increasing arrivals of migrants to the Greek Aegean islands
The number of sea crossings to the Greek Aegean islands reached a peak last week. On 29 September 13 boats, carrying a total of 547 refugees, arrived on the island of Lesvos almost simultaneously. Among them were around 250 children, according to Aegean Boat Report. The majority of the people arriving were Afghans. Nasim Lomani wrote an interesting commentary connecting the arrivals to recent and historical developments in Afghanistan:
Turkish state’s ongoing deportation campaign leaves many with fear | Hostile environment towards Syrian refugees grows beyond Turkey, including Lebanon and Jordan | Greece and Islands: not far from the context in Turkey | Threats and violations towards returnees in Syria | Turkey-US joint military talks on establishment of a safe zone in Northern Syria
Turkish State’s Ongoing Deportation Campaign Leaves Many With Fear:
As the deadline which Turkish authorities set for unregistered migrants to leave Istanbul, 20 August, approaches, different opinions and accounts of the deportations remain on the agenda past week (regardless that the deadline is announced to be extended to October 30th, after we have prepared this digest). We mentioned earlier the report released by We Want To Leave Together Initiative regarding the two weeks of deportations, which is available here now in English.
Another report has been released by Syrians for Truth and Justice/STJ, which documents several cases where Syrians, including young and old men, women with children and an unaccompanied minor, some of whom had Temporary Protection IDs, were deported to Syria. Several witnesses interviewed by STJ also told that their Turkish neighbors reported the houses where Syrians live to the authorities, and the police, for its part, intentionally raided these houses at midnight or dawn.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians are currently living under siege in Turkey, particularly in Istanbul. Using the term “siege” is no exaggeration here – many don’t dare step out of their homes to secure their basic needs. They cannot go to work, and they can’t even leave their homes in order to try and correct their legal situation, according to the demands of the Turkish government. Even in their homes, tens of thousands of Syrians don’t feel safe. It is reported that Turkish police patrols have entered homes in Istanbul and Gaziantep, arresting anyone without a Temporary Protection ID, and even those who have Temporary Protection IDs but registered in different provinces.
The fear overwhelming Syrians in Turkey today is compounded and multi-layered. Just as resources are distributed unequally in this world, the level of fear amongst Syrians varies with their legal and economic situation. Nevertheless, all are scared, and their fear is a complex tale that could seem hard to explain.