There is a fear among Syrian refugees in Istanbul, Turkey, that they will be deported following recent local and regional developments.
According to the latest statistics, there are over 3.6 million Syrian refugees who have escaped the civil conflict in Syria and have sought refuge in neighbouring Turkey. The greater majority (over 97%) live in cities, with the rest settled in camps. Of these cities, Istanbul has taken in the highest number of Syrian refugees, estimated at over 547,000, with the majority of the rest residing in large cities near the Syrian border, such as Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa and Adana.
Of these approximately 3.6 million Syrian refugees, only around 92,000 have been granted Turkish citizenship, according to a statement made by Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu in August 2019. The rest face difficulties in accessing work and residence permits.
Those living in Istanbul are facing a deadline of 30 October to obtain a temporary identity card that would allow them to stay in the country temporarily, otherwise they would face deportation. Some Syrian refugees have already been sent from Istanbul to the border town of Kilis.
Istanbul had once welcomed the Syrian refugees without any conditions. However, the internal political and social climate within Turkey, which is inclined towards criticism of taking in refugees from Syria, has pushed governmental institutions to look for a way to solve the refugee issue. Indeed, the Istanbul mayoral elections in March 2019 involved heated discussion about how to deal with the Syrian refugee issue, which had come to the attention of the political authorities following local grievances.
The deportation of Syrian refugees has also been a mooted idea linked to the envisaged “safe-zone” being prepared by Turkey in the north of Syria. The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) recently launched a military operation, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring” in the north of Syria, targeting the Autonomous Administration of Northern Syria and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Turkey has stated its intention of creating a “safe-zone” that would stretch around 430 kilometres along the Syrian-Turkish border and 30 kilometres deep into Syrian territory, where between 1-2 million Syrian refugees will supposedly be settled.