Human Rights Watch recently released a disturbing report detailing the involuntary deportation of hundreds of Syrian refugees from Turkey back into the proverbial lion’s den of Assad’s Syria.
For those who continue to chronicle the Syrian genocide unleashed by Assad, Iran and Russia on the Syrian people after a popular revolution against the Baathist tyrant in 2011, this news is sadly unsurprising.
Of all the countries, Turkey has been the most generous towards Syrian refugees fleeing mass terror across the border. There was a golden period when millions of Syrian refugees, against the odds, flourished, thanks to a Turkish government willing to grant them the necessary opportunities to set up homes and businesses that benefitted Turkish society in general. There were even concrete overtures towards integration, such as refugees gaining voting rights and the granting of citizenship to thousands.
”It seems clear that Erdogan is looking to pave the way for a definitive answer to the Syrian question within the context of economic uncertainties and racist backlash. If the president can tentatively normalize relations with Assad, he can withdraw Turkish resources from Idlib, paving the way for the conquest of the province by Assad and his apparatuses of mass murder.”
Indeed, Turkey was the safest of havens for Syrians contrasted with – save a few exceptions – Western hostility.
While there were always the seeds of xenophobic resentment, often maliciously stirred up by the opposition to the AKP, the situation for Syrians in Turkey has deteriorated rapidly. There has been some correlation between anti-Syrian sentiment and a downturn in economic conditions for Turks, including the outbreak of racist mobs attacking Syrian homes in Ankara last summer.
As has been detailed elsewhere, these discriminatory and racist attitudes and actions towards Syrians among Turks have only grown in quantity and quality.
On the ‘streets’ one can see the vicious process of increasing economic strain across Turkey and the subsequent scapegoating of Syrians and other immigrants by opposition parties. Even the ruling AKP, exacerbated by an impending election in 2023, has tried to triangulate the xenophobic populism of the opposition. There has been widespread accounts of Syrians facing intimidation, harassment and even murder at the hands of Turkish assailants, with tensions in areas of cities with large migrant populations running high.
Despite the fairy tale narrative of uniform Turkish kindness and hospitality towards Syrian refugees, the reality is that the Erdogan regime has always been willing to weaponise refugees against Greece and the EU. But this exploitation is a two-way street, with the EU doing everything in its power to stop refugees from entering. If conditions continue to deteriorate in Turkey for Syrians, finding refuge among the even more racially hostile landscape of Fortress Europe is not an option.
And this is perhaps the most sinister aspect of all this. While Erdogan publicly commits himself to the principle of nonrefoulment, which is the legal obligation to refrain from sending refugees back to places where their lives are in danger, the forced deportations speak not only to the undermining of that commitment but to a changing agenda.
Fear was aroused among Syrians when Erdogan pledged to voluntarily return 1 million Syrian refugees after opposition attacks over his ‘pro-refugee’ policies and the release of a hysterically racist but popular short film accusing Syrians of taking over Turkey by stealth.
It has also not gone unnoticed among Syrians that Erdogan’s once-watertight resistance to the normalization of relations with Assad is slowly but surely fading.
Most recently, Erdogan went from righteously saying that the ‘terrorist’ Assad has no place in negotiations, due to his vast genocidal crimes, to say that he would be willing to meet with the ‘President of Syria’ when ‘the time is right’.
The switch is chilling – the monster who drove around 4 million Syrians out of their home to Turkey, and who rules over a rump state propped up by Russia and Iran, is referred to as the ‘President of Syria’.
It’s not just the millions of Syrians in Turkey that will feel uneasy at this language, but the millions trapped in Idlib, the last rebel-held province of Syria that is effectively under Turkish control and protection.
It seems clear that Erdogan is looking to pave the way for a definitive answer to the Syrian question within the context of economic uncertainties and racist backlash. If the president can tentatively normalise relations with Assad, he can withdraw Turkish resources from Idlib, paving the way for the conquest of the province by Assad and his apparatuses of mass murder. At the same time, it circumvents Turkey’s legal commitment to nonrefoulment as Erdogan can claim that he has assurances from Assad that Baathist Syria is safe.
This is how Denmark, Hungary and a host of other racist European governments have justified deporting Syrian refugees – the fact that those deported Syrians often end up imprisoned, tortured or murdered falls on entirely deaf ears. In fact, if Turkey does go ahead in this manner, it will only increase the output of Europe’s machinery of deportation. The reality is that countries increasingly want rid of refugees no matter the consequences for the refugees – this constitutes racist dehumanisation of truly monstrous proportions.
The recent deportations of Syrians could thus be an omen of what more is to come. No friends in Europe, increasingly no friends in Turkey. The only logical conclusion is a perilous return to Assad’s rump state – another inglorious triumph for tyranny and counterrevolution in the MENA, and the rest of the world.
The Syrians who were forcibly deported by Turkey were ‘forced’ to sign documents for a reason –they know that they will never be safe in Syria as long as it is ruled by the criminal who victimised them to begin with.