Migration From Istanbul: Living Crisis For Migrants In Turkey

Istanbul was home for thousands of migrants, and it hosted the largest registered number of Syrians in Turkey (548,000 out of the 3.6 million). However, Sinem Koseoglu, Al Jazeera’s Istanbul-based correspondent, remarked that an estimated one million Syrians live there. Turkey has only provided partial legal protection to Syrians by granting them ”temporary protection” instead of refugee status. Although some Syrians are still living in border cities for economic reasons, several of them had relocated to Istanbul to improve their lives.

Recently, in a disguised attempt to regulate the population increase, the government is referring to Syrians in Istanbul as unregistered and is demanding for them to leave the city. Though Turkish Minister of the Interior Süleyman Soylu has extended the deadline to October 20th, it has been a huge concern for Syrians to return to their country or the cities where they previously registered upon arriving Turkey, especially because of their established businesses or jobs the Financial Times reports. Some work under the “black market” so they are not registered under the national social security. Soylu added this is similar to what was done in Ankara and Bursa cities.

The consequences of this expulsion are grave as “Rami,” a Syrian shop owner, told Al Jazeera, “It harms the businesses here, not only for Syrians but for Turks, as well. They employed Syrians and most of them are now gone. Some Syrians shut down their businesses because they had to leave.”

The government can be greatly commended for making keen exemptions to some 2,600 Syrians who are studying in Istanbul along with their families as well as owners of active businesses, orphans, taxpayers or employees registered under the Social Security Institution (SGK) to remain in the city. Depending on certain conditions, the exemption also includes some split families and Syrians with serious health conditions who need to be treated in Istanbul, Al Jazeera reports.

Unfortunately, authorities insist that the remaining Syrians must return or anticipate deportation. The main cause for this attack on migrants has been traced to the decisions of the defeated President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development (AK) Party in the Istanbul mayoral elections earlier this year. They claim a large number of refugees in the city had hurt the ruling party’s popularity.

Could racism be another huge reason? “When I crossed the border and saw the Turkish flag behind me, I realized I hated it because this is a racist country,” said one Syrian, who had been deported but had smuggled himself back to Istanbul. Another, whom we spoke to in Syria, said Turks saw Syrians “like insects sucking their blood,” BBC added.

Strangely, some Syrians told the BBC many were being deported to Idlib, inside Syria, where fighting is escalating. Mark Lowen, BBC’s Istanbul Correspondent, out-cried the international humanitarian law principle of “non-refoulement” which prohibits deporting migrants to a war zone. On the contrary, the Turkish government insists Syrians returning home are going voluntarily and to areas secured by the Turkish army.  Sadly, Turkey reported on Monday that a Syrian airstrike attacked a Turkish convoy killing three civilians and leaving 12 injured. Is Syria safe for repatriation?

The sudden relocation has caused unsatisfactorily feelings for expelled migrants since the government began the crackdown several weeks ago. Turkey can be applauded for hosting the highest number of refugees in the world but the forceful repatriation of Syrians back to Syria is unacceptable. Also, sending some back to other cities within Turkey could have been done with consideration of livelihood. A time frame of 7 to 10 months would have been more appropriate.