Hundreds of Syrian refugees in Turkey have been compelled to return to their war-torn home country, some in handcuffs, after receiving threats of violence or being tricked into signing “voluntary return” agreements.
These are the claims contained in a hard-hitting report by Amnesty International, released on Friday, which claims to have documented at least 20 cases of forced illegal deportations by Turkish authorities.
Turkey is host to an estimated 3.6 million Syrians who have fled war in the neighbouring country, a situation that has increasingly become a domestic political headache for the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Erdoğan warned, before launching Turkey’s military incursion against Kurdish forces in northern Syria formerly allied with the US in the fight against Islamic State, that he planned to resettle 2 million people in a “safe zone” along the border.
The Amnesty report comes hard on the heels of the controversial decision by Donald Trump to lift sanctions imposed against Turkey after the country launched its campaign.
On Sunday, Erdoğan warned that Turkish forces would crush Kurdish militia fighters if they did not withdraw from the “safe zone” under a fragile truce agreement that has been marked by continuing clashes.
The claims about deportations that took place ahead of the Turkish military’s incursion have raised serious concerns over how Syrians might be persuaded to return. This is despite the €6bn (£5.2bn)deal signed with the EU in 2016, in which Europe agreed to help Turkey with the costs of hosting the refugees.
While it is illegal to forcibly deport people to Syria, as it exposes them to a real risk of serious human rights violations, Turkey claims that all those who return to Syria do so voluntarily. Turkish officials say 315,000 people have left for Syria on a voluntary basis.