Human Rights Watch exposes the treatment of Syrian refugees in Turkey involving torture and animosity

The treatment of Syrian refugees by Turkey has become a focal point of widespread international criticism. Human Rights Watch highlighted this issue in its recently released 2023 annual report, strongly condemning the Turkish authorities’ treatment of refugees, particularly Syrians.

This is not the first time that an international organization or human rights bodies have issued such observations on the situation of Syrian refugees in Turkey, a country whose president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has always paid lip service to providing them with a decent life. In response, Turkey received billions of euros from European countries with the purported intention of utilizing the funds for the well-being and support of the refugees.

 Hate speech

Human Rights Watch said in its report that Syrian refugees are exposed to hate speech, especially from police agencies, it noted that Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees in the world, most of whom are Syrians under the temporary protection residency. Non-European asylum seekers, mostly Syrians, face severe restrictions in applying for international protection, as Turkey consistently deport them, at time xenophobic slogans were used as a weapon or tool during the election campaign, especially against Syrians and Afghans.

During the presidential and parliamentary elections in May last year, part of the popularity of some candidates relied on hate speech directed at refugees, especially Syrians, as many people demanded that they should be forcibly deported to their countries, meanwhile considering them a burden on the Turkish economy.

In September, the EU announced more financial support to Turkey for the Syrian refugees most in need, in exchange for restrictions on the entry of refugees and migrants into the EU, Human Rights Watch, which indicated that Ankara is a candidate capital for EU membership.

Nevertheless, many observers have criticized the lack of accurate information regarding how Turkey utilizes funds from Europe that are designated for refugees. There are suggestions that this money may have been misappropriated or, at the very least, not entirely allocated to the needs of refugees.

Torture and mistreatment

Speaking about torture in Turkey, Human Rights Watch stated that torture and ill-treatment have continued in police stations and prisons since 2016, the police ill-treatment also directed at Syrian refugees following the devastating earthquake in February last year, reflecting xenophobic motives. In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake, many Syrian refugees complained about discriminatory treatment of those affected, as relief for Turkish citizens was given priority over Syrian refugees, as documented by other human rights and press reports.

Serious fears facing Syrian refugees

Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said in a statement to Target Media Platform, that the fear of deportation is the most difficult thing facing Syrians in Turkey, Abdel Rahman pointed out that the treatment by the Turkish people towards Syrians has undergone many changes, unlike what was the case in the first four years. He added that the Turkish police killed at the Syrian-Turkish border during the past year about 34 Syrian civilians, including a woman and 3 children, as 52 people were injured, including 3 children and 5 women. The Syrians suffer from the consequences of hate speech from officials, legal figures and ordinary citizens. Additionally, he stated that Syrians face racist campaigns and harassment, leading many to believe that Turkey is no longer a suitable and safe place for Syrian refugees. This perception is fueled by the stringent restrictions imposed, implicating them in all internal issues.

Abdel Rahman emphasized that racist graffiti appeared in the markets, streets and on the homes of Syrian refugees calling for the expulsion of Syrians in general from Turkey, as well as the phrase “expel the Syrians” and “expel the Arabs.”

The inferiority view on Syrian refugees

According to Rami Abdel Rahman, Syrians contend with a pervasive “inferiority view” from many Turks. The youth, particularly vulnerable to racist campaigns, experience an immoral treatment by some Turks. This is attributed to what is perceived as the appropriation of job opportunities and occupation of various positions by Syrian youth. Meanwhile, a significant number of Syrians independently manage to meet their needs, as the Turkish government does not shoulder responsibilities in terms of healthcare, education, or food assistance.

Abdul Rahman also referred that there is a severe dealing attitude towards the Syrians, is evident in the street, the market and the daily life with the Turks. He explained that there are areas in Turkey that have improved greatly after the Syrians settled in, such as the city of Reyhaniya, inside which dozens of shops, malls and restaurants of Syrians were opened, as the majority of Syrians work twice as much as the Turks. They endure hardship in order to provide a living, fall victim to employers exploiting them and deducting their wages.

Rami Abdel Rahman said that the Turkish government has taken a series of unjust measures against Syrian refugees in Turkey over the past few years, such as depriving thousands of Syrian teachers of teaching, dismissing them even though they work under an agreement with and receive support from UNICEF. He also referred to the decision to prevent the entry of escorts with Syrian patients who are crossing the Turkish border, and another decision to withdraw the “temporary protection card” from Syrian patients within Turkish hospitals and deprive them of the right to free treatment.

 Syrian refugees file

Numerous observers contend that the Turkish state strategically leveraged the Syrian refugee issue to secure political advantages. Firstly, it aimed to portray itself as a champion of helping poor people, garnering increased support both domestically and internationally. Additionally, Turkey is believed to have used the refugee situation as a bargaining tool with European countries, employing tactics of blackmail. In some instances, this approach resulted in Turkey obtaining concessions or influencing European immigration policies.

In recent months, the Turkish president has also begun equipping some settlements in areas of North and East Syria with the intention of settling refugees there at the expense of the indigenous people of those areas, most of whom are descended from Kurdish people, in a process of demographic change that can only be called a war crime.

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