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Turkey says 40,000 refugees expelled from Istanbul

Turkey says 300,000 have voluntarily returned to Syria [AFP]

Date of publication: 15 November, 2019

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Around 3.6 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey.
Turkey said on Friday it had expelled more than 40,000 refugees living in Istanbul and sent them back to the provinces where they were initially registered. 

Syrian refugees living in Turkey's largest city without a valid permit were given until the end of October to leave voluntarily.

Aimed at those without a temporary protection status - Turkey's legal designation for Syrians in absence of an official refugee status - registered in Istanbul, the edict originally gave the city's Syrian population until mid-August to leave.

The deadline was delayed amid increased international scrutiny and allegations that Ankara had deported vulnerable Syrians to an active war zone.

Turkey hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees - more than any other country.

Under the temporary protection system, they must remain in the province to which they were initially assigned, and can only visit other cities with short-term passes.

Read more: Why is once refugee-friendly Turkey now turning its back on Syrians?

The thousands of Syrians who arrived in recent years were unable to register under the system will be assigned to a province outside of Istanbul, the authorities have said.

The Istanbul governor's office said on Friday that 42,888 refugees had been rounded up by police and sent back to their assigned provinces between July and October, without specifying their nationalities.

It said in July that 547,000 Syrians were officially registered in Istanbul, and that no new registrations were being accepted. 

Intolerance of and racism against Syrians refugees has increased in recent years as the conflict wears on.

Seen initially as a temporary presence in Turkey, Syrians have suffered the consequences of a sharp economic downturn that has increased tensions between Turkish citizens and refugees.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he plans to repatriate Syrians to a "safe zone" in northeastern Syria, even pledging to build thousands of new homes there.

As many as three million Syrians could be returned to the buffer zone, he said in September.

Rights groups have cast doubt on both the financial faesibility of the plan and its possible illegality. Critics have also alleged the plan could constitute demographic engineering, with Kurdish locals displaced by violence replaced by Arab Syrians.

Ankara was accused earlier this year of violating the principle of non-refoulement, a key tenet of international law, by allegedly deporting thousands of Syrians to war-torn Idlib province.

Turkey insists they returned voluntarily, but rights groups allege that refugees were forced to sign documents claiming their deportation was "voluntary".

The Turkish authorities claim more than 300,000 Syrians have voluntarily returned to the country in the past few years.

"Turkey's claim that refugees from Syria are choosing to walk straight back into the conflict is dangerous and dishonest. Rather, our research shows that people are being tricked or forced into returning," Anna Shea, Researcher on Refugee and Migrant Rights at Amnesty International, said in a statement last month.

"Turkey deserves recognition for hosting more than 3.6 million women, men and children from Syria for over eight years, but it cannot use this generosity as an excuse to flout international and domestic law by deporting people to an active conflict zone."

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