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Turkey arrests 6,000 in Istanbul anti-migrant crackdown

More than 2,000 Afghan refugees were picked up by authorities in Istanbul [Anadolu/Getty]

Date of publication: 24 July, 2019

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Turkey's Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said unregistered Syrian refugees will not be deported to Syria but sent to refugee camps.
A crackdown on unregistered migrants in Istanbul has seen 6,000 arrests, including Syrians, in the past two weeks, the interior minister said on Wednesday.

There has been concern in recent days over reports that hundreds of Syrian refugees have been sent back to Syria, after being forced to sign consent forms in Turkish that they do not understand. 

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu denied the claims.

"We have been carrying out an operation since July 12... We have caught 6,122 people in Istanbul, including 2,600 Afghans," Soylu told TV station NTV

He said Syrians were part of the group, without giving numbers. 

"When we catch Syrians who are not registered, we send them to refugee camps," he said, citing a camp in the Turkish border province of Hatay. 

"No person under temporary protection may be deported," he explained.

However, he said some Syrians were choosing to go back to their home country "voluntarily" to areas where fighting has abated. 

"This issue goes far beyond the Syrian issue," Soylu also said, adding: "There is an incredible pressure on us [Turkey] from our east, our south, from Asia. There is pressure from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Idlib and Africa."

Soylu said Tuesday that Turkey planned to deport 80,000 people in 2019. At least 43,000 have been deported this year so far.

'Temporary protection'

Turkey has more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees - the highest number in the world. 

Most have "temporary protection" permits but these restrict them to the province in which they were registered. The current crackdown is aimed at those who live in Istanbul without a permit to stay in the city.

A coalition of Syrian NGOs said Monday that more than 600 Syrians - mostly with protection permits issued in other provinces - were arrested in Istanbul last week and deported back to Syria, rather than to their assigned provinces. 

The crackdown is orchestrated by the Istanbul governor's office, which is controlled by the central government in Ankara. 

It follows the defeat of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AKP party in the Istanbul party, with some arguing that the large presence of refugees in the city had hurt the ruling party's popularity. 

The governor's office says there are 547,000 Syrians registered in the city. 

#SyriansOut

Syrians living illegally in Istanbul were warned on Monday that they had until August 20 to leave the city or face expulsion.

In a statement published in Turkish and Arabic, the Istanbul governor's office said it would no longer tolerate Syrians who are assigned to other provinces.

"Foreigners of Syrian nationality who are not registered under the system of temporary protection or who do not have a residency permit will be expelled to their designated provinces by the ministry of the interior," it said.

Those without any registration papers at all would be sent back to Syria, it added

A survey published this month by Kadir Has University in Istanbul showed growing hostility towards Syrian refugees in the city, rising from 54.5 percent of respondents in 2017 to 67.7 percent in 2019.

#SyriansOut became part of the discourse during municipal elections this year - with many complaining about the number of Arabic signs appearing on shops in Istanbul and elsewhere.

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