Syrians in Turkey face an uncertain future, whether…

Syrians in Turkey face an uncertain future, whether…
Syrians in Turkey face an uncertain future, whether…

The Guardian newspaper published a report by journalists Ruth Michelson and Hussam Hazaber, in which they said that there are fears of deportation among Syrian refugees in Turkey due to the competition of the various parties over who is the best in suppressing immigration.

One of those refugees is Rakan Talib, who was sitting on a leather chair surrounded by shelves of colorful bottles of shampoo, washing powder and jars of dark golden honey, as he showed off his small shop that he had established himself. The 26-year-old watches over a group of laughing schoolboys arriving to buy bread, while looking at packets of gum on the table next to a stack of bound ledgers.

A student arrived in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep in 2014 after fleeing the advance of the Islamic State group on his home city of Deir Ezzor, determined to change his fortunes after giving up his dream of becoming a doctor. He succeeded, and worked his way up to buying his own corner shop two years ago.

As he flicked a cigarette with one hand and passed the rosary beads with the other, he said: “I lost my education and my future. I lost everything to come here and live in safety and dignity. Now they are talking about restoring relations with Bashar al-Assad and deporting us to Syria. For me and for all Syrians in Turkey.

An estimated 4 million Syrians live in Turkey, and their bond with their adopted homeland has deepened over the past decade despite the increasingly hostile climate. When polled, at least 80 percent of Turks said they wanted the Syrians to return. This sentiment has increasingly found a home across the political spectrum in Turkey, amid the rise of overtly anti-immigrant parties and as it has been attacked by a broad coalition trying to unseat Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from the right on immigration.

The result was a tug-of-war between the ruling coalition led by Erdogan and the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) over the fate of the Syrian community in Turkey. Both parties are openly jockeying to see who can pledge to crack down on immigration and quickly restore relations with Assad. When Turkey heads to the polls on Sunday, the Syrian community expects to lose no matter who wins.

Despite promising the start of a new era of justice and democracy, opposition presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has been particularly vocal about his desire to deport Syrian refugees, making clear his plans at every rally. “We will return all Syrians to their country within two years at the latest,” he said.

Anti-refugee sentiment is running high within the CHP despite the party touting its social democratic credentials, and one local chapter invited the media to watch Syrians from their region board buses heading to Turkey’s southern border. “From our point of view, we are not saying in a racist way that we will send people back. With the right policy and proper communication with Syria, we want to rebuild the region again and take the Syrians a step back,” Kılıçdaroğlu’s deputy, Onursal Adigüzel, said.

Erdogan responded to the CHP’s electoral propaganda by pressing for a speedy restoration of relations with Damascus. Turkey’s defense minister and intelligence chief met repeatedly with their Syrian counterparts, the highest-profile meetings in more than a decade. Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad told reporters that Ankara would have to withdraw its forces from northern Syria in order for a full rapprochement between the two leaders to become possible.

The possibility of full reconciliation with the Syrian leadership is still enough for Erdogan to claim that Syrians residing in Turkey are safe to return. Twin earthquakes in February killed nearly 60,000 people in southern Turkey and northern Syria and destroyed homes and infrastructure in a strip of land under Turkish control, discouraging Erdogan, who boasted that the towers Turkey had built in Idlib had become Ready for returns.

The barren towers were visible on a hillside in Idlib, but were said to be largely empty or populated by Syrians who never left for Turkey, according to local residents.

In the year leading up to the elections, the Turkish government escalated what it calls a program of “voluntary repatriation” to Syria, although Syrians and rights groups deny that most of the voluntary returnees participated. Human Rights Watch reported that returnees were often arrested, forced to sign deportation forms, assaulted, and in some cases forced to cross borders back into Syria at gunpoint.

Syrians who participated in the “voluntary return” program in Turkey spoke of harsh treatment, although some chose to leave after the earthquake. Returnees face the risk of arrest, torture, enforced disappearance and poverty, while others in the Syrian community in Gaziantep described how their returned friends disappeared upon their arrival.

“At first I was pressured to accept deportation after I resisted many times, because I I know very well that it means leaving my family behind in Turkey.. I lived in Turkey for nearly seven years, and after I lost everything in Syria the first time, I now see myself losing everything I built in Turkey over the past few years, and I have to start from Zero again.”

He added, “The elections mean nothing to me at all and I don’t care who wins. We all know that refugees are a political football that the current government uses to appease the opposition, or that the opposition uses to appease the broader Turkish public.”

A student laughed at the idea that it would be safe for him and his family to return to Syria, and “nobody in the Syrian community in Gaziantep said they would leave Turkey willingly.”

Returning to live under Assad’s rule is impossible. “Voluntary return will only be possible after Assad is gone,” he said. “If they deport me to Aleppo, what exactly am I doing there? My home is in Deir Ezzor. But if they deport me to Aleppo, I will start over, from scratch.”

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