Deportation of Syrian refugees from Istanbul creates panic

Turkey’s move to deport unregistered Syrian refugees is seen as being related to pleasing the ruling AKP government’s constituencies, who have complained about refugees taking their jobs. (AFP)
Updated 24 July 2019

Deportation of Syrian refugees from Istanbul creates panic

  • Turkish citizens consider Syrian refugees as one of the top critical issues in the country

ANKARA: The deportation of about 1,000 Syrians in a week from Istanbul to Syria’s Idlib province has sparked a debate about Turkey’s refugee policy and the timing of the move. Syrian refugees who have illegally crossed into Turkey or committed a crime were sent to rebel-held Idlib, where Turkey has 12 observation posts and some safe zones.
Local authorities in Istanbul on Monday set a four-week deadline — until Aug. 20 — for Syrians living without authorization to return to provinces where they were registered or be forcefully dispatched to those regions, Reuters reported.
The number of refugees exceeds 4 million in Turkey, with Istanbul hosting about half-a-million Syrian refugees. More than 5,000 Syrian refugees in Istanbul were also reportedly detained by police because their residency permits were registered in another Turkish city.
They will be moved to those cities from the relocation centers because according to the law they should stay in the province where they are registered and obtain a special permit to travel elsewhere.
There are about 300,000 refugees in Istanbul who are registered in another Turkish city.
According to some experts, deporting unregistered refugees is understandable to a point, but sending them to a war zone is not acceptable. For other experts, the move is seen as being related to pleasing the ruling AKP government’s constituencies, who have complained about refugees allegedly taking their jobs.
A recent poll conducted by Turkish Piar research company revealed that Turkish citizens consider Syrian refugees as the second most critical issue the country faces.
Murat Erdogan, of the Migration and Integration Research Center at the German-Turkish University in Istanbul, said that the move appears to have two objectives.
“On the domestic front, the authorities intend to send a message to Turkish society to say that the flow of Syrian refugees is under their control. From the international perspective, it is a message to the European Union, which insists on not launching a visa-free Europe to Turkish citizens although Turkey has met the key criteria,” he told Arab News.
For Erdogan, sending Syrian refugees to a dangerous place such as Idlib, where the latest bombings have targeted civilians, is a tactical move to seriously disturb European officials.
“How those Syrians relocated to the city where they were registered will be accommodated by the local people from an integration point of view, and how they will find jobs to make ends meet, is another concern,” he said.
Erdogan said that the management of refugee flows from Syria was a significant soft power tool for Ankara.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The number of refugees exceeds 4 million in Turkey, with Istanbul hosting about half-a-million Syrian refugees.

• More than 5,000 Syrian refugees in Istanbul were reportedly detained by the police because their residency permits were registered in another Turkish city.

• They will be moved to those cities from the relocation centers because according to the law they should stay in the province where they are registered and obtain a special permit to travel elsewhere.

Halit Hoca, founder of the Solidarity with Syrian People Platform and ex-president of the Syrian National Coalition, said that the government’s latest move with Syrian refugees came as a surprise to them.
“There were some Syrians who came to Turkey under the guise of refugees over the past eight years, and some of them gained citizenship status but they were not refugees. However, we insistently advised the government to coordinate these refugee flows with the relevant civil society actors, but our calls remained unanswered,” he told Arab News.
Now the government had suddenly decided to send them back in an unsystematic manner, which had caused great panic and may create new wounds, Hoca said.
“The timing is also telling. These deportations occurred during the days when Russian planes heavily hit targets in Idlib,” he said.
Turkey had a similar deportation wave in 2017, which was criticized by Human Rights Watch. Last week, a 16-year-old teenager was reportedly sent back to Idlib because he had left his identity card at home.
“Although this time it is not the first wave of deportation, it is on a more massive scale than the previous one. But one thing is clear: This decision might be temporary, but there is a constant message that comes out: Turkey wants to show that it can host and send back guests whenever it wants,” Hoca said.
Syrian refugees who work without a work permit are also under close examination by police.
The Syrian High Negotiations Committee (HNC) recently announced its plan to address the situation of refugees in Turkey. During a press conference in Riyadh, Nasr Al-Hariri, head of the HNC, said that it was currently working with Turkish authorities on this issue.
For Omar Kadkoy, a Syrian-origin researcher on refugee integration at Ankara-based think tank TEPAV, the recent measures put both the mandate of temporary protection and the universal principle of non-refoulement (a principle of international law that forbids a nation returning asylum seekers to a country in which they would be in danger of persecution) at risk of violation.
“The former indicates an obligation of notification in case of removal and the latter requires verifying the aspect of voluntary return through a third-party — namely the UNHCR — and the presence of a safe country of origin. Unfortunately, recent actions don’t seem to meet the aforementioned conditions,” he told Arab News.
“The current bad turn of the economy is affecting everybody. Yet the reactionary behavior of the government reflects two bitter realities,” Kadkoy said.
“First, losing the megacity to the opposition in the re-run elections — but still telling the constituency that it is the AKP who calls the shots. Second, harvesting the bad fruits of the laissez-faire approach toward Syrians from the onset. After all, the subjects of unregistered Syrians, informal employment or businesses were not born yesterday.”


Satellite photos show construction at Iran nuclear site

Updated 27 min 58 sec ago

Satellite photos show construction at Iran nuclear site

  • A satellite image Monday shows the site cleared away with what appears to be construction equipment there
  • Analysts from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies say they believe the site is undergoing excavation

DUBAI: Iran has begun construction at its Natanz nuclear facility, satellite images released Wednesday show, just as the UN nuclear agency acknowledged Tehran is building an underground advanced centrifuge assembly plant after its last one exploded in a reported sabotage attack last summer.
The construction comes as the US nears Election Day in a campaign pitting President Donald Trump, whose maximum pressure campaign against Iran has led Tehran to abandon all limits on its atomic program, and Joe Biden, who has expressed a willingness to return to the accord. The outcome of the vote likely will decide which approach America takes. Heightened tensions between Iran and the US nearly ignited a war at the start of the year.
Since August, Iran has built a new or regraded road to the south of Natanz toward what analysts believe is a former firing range for security forces at the enrichment facility, images from San Francisco-based Planet Labs show. A satellite image Monday shows the site cleared away with what appears to be construction equipment there.
Analysts from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies say they believe the site is undergoing excavation.
“That road also goes into the mountains so it may be the fact that they’re digging some kind of structure that’s going to be out in front and that there’s going to be a tunnel in the mountains,” said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the institute who studies Iran’s nuclear program. “Or maybe that they’re just going to bury it there.”
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, last month told state television the destroyed above-ground facility was being replaced with one “in the heart of the mountains around Natanz.”
Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that his inspectors were aware of the construction. He said Iran had previously informed IAEA inspectors, who continue to have access to Iran’s sites despite the collapse of the nuclear deal.
“It means that they have started, but it’s not completed. It’s a long process,” Grossi said.
Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, in which Tehran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. When the US ramped up sanctions, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned those limits as a series of escalating incidents pushed the two countries to the brink of war at the beginning of the year.
Iran now enriches uranium to up to 4.5% purity, and according to the last IAEA report, had a stockpile of 2,105 kilograms (2.32 tons). Experts typically say 1,050 kilograms (1.15 tons) of low-enriched uranium is enough material to be re-enriched up to weapons-grade levels of 90% purity for one nuclear weapon.
Iran’s so-called “breakout time” — the time needed for it to build one nuclear weapon if it chose to do so — is estimated now to have dropped from one year under the deal to as little as three months. Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, though Western countries fear Tehran could use it to pursue atomic weapons.
Natanz, built underground to harden it against airstrikes, long has been at the center of those fears since its discovery in 2002. Centrifuges there still spin in vast halls under 7.6 meters (25 feet) of concrete. Air defense positions surround the facility in Iran’s central Isfahan province.
Despite being one of the most-secure sites in Iran, Natanz was targeted by the Stuxnet computer virus — believed to be the creation of the US and Israel — before the nuclear deal.
In July, a fire and explosion struck its advanced centrifuge assembly facility in an incident Iran later described as sabotage. Suspicion has fallen on Israel, despite a claim of responsibility by a previously unheard-of group.
There have been tensions with the IAEA and Iran even at Natanz, with Tehran accusing one inspector of testing positive for explosives last year. However, so far inspectors have been able to maintain their surveillance. something Lewis described as very important.
“As long as they declared to the IAEA in the proper time frame, there’s no prohibition on putting things underground,” he said. “For me, the real red line would be if the Iranians started to stonewall the IAEA.”
For now, it remains unclear how deep Iran will put this new facility. And while the sabotage will delay Iran in assembling new centrifuges, Lewis warned the program ultimately would regroup as it had before and continue accumulating ever-more material beyond the scope of the abandoned nuclear deal.
“We buy ourselves a few months,” he said. “But what good is a few months if we don’t know what we’re going to use it for?”