Deported from Turkey, Syrians return to unfamiliar country

Incoming Syrian refugees from Turkey ride in a bus transporting them through the Bab Al-Hawa crossing between Turkey and Syria’s Idlib province. (AFP)
Updated 31 July 2019

Deported from Turkey, Syrians return to unfamiliar country

  • More than 4,400 Syrians have been sent back via Bab Al-Hawa since July

BAB AL-HAWA CROSSING, SYRIA: Still reeling from his sudden deportation from Turkey with just the clothes on his back, Mohammad Hassan stood in the arrivals hall at a border crossing in northern Syria unsure what to do next.

“I left Syria seven years ago,” said the 22-year-old. “I don’t know anything about this country.”

He was among dozens to queue up one morning last week to register with officials at the Bab Al-Hawa crossing — many in complete disbelief.

During Hassan’s years of exile, Syria’s landscape changed dramatically.

With no say in the matter, he has just been bused into the country’s last opposition bastion of Idlib, administered since the start of the year by jihadists.

His home city of Aleppo to the east has been under regime control since 2016, making it near impossible for him to return to the former rebel stronghold.

“My family are in Aleppo but I can’t go there,” he said, looking dejected in a black jacket and baseball cap.

Regime forces have detained young men in areas they have retaken with Russian backing since 2015, and forced others to join President Bashar Assad’s army.

Syria’s eight-year conflict has killed more than 370,000 people since it started in 2011, as well as displacing millions at home and abroad. Some 3.5 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey alone, the UN says.

Hassan used to live in Istanbul, where authorities are leading a crackdown on unregistered migrants.

They have arrested 6,000 — including Syrians — over the past two weeks, the interior ministry said last Wednesday.

Critics have raised concern over reports that hundreds of Syrian refugees have been deported, after being forced to sign consent forms in Turkish they do not understand.

Hassan said he tried several times to get a temporary residency permit, but was refused.

“In Istanbul they’ve stopped issuing them to Syrians,” he said.

Without the right “temporary protection” permit, he was stopped and arrested.

After more than a week in jail, Hassan was presented with a wad of papers to ink with a finger, which he was told would allow him to stay in Turkey legally.

“They lied to us,” he said.

Instead, “we were shocked when the next morning they loaded us on buses and sent us back to Syria.”

The crackdown has alarmed human rights campaigners.

“Turkey claims it helps Syrians voluntarily return to their country, but threatening to lock them up until they agree to return, forcing them to sign forms, and dumping them in a war zone is neither voluntary nor legal,” said Gerry Simpson, an associate director at Human Rights Watch.

Bab Al-Hawa crossing spokesman Mazen Alloush said Syrians were being deported daily.

Most had tried to illegally cross the border, but others were residents sent home for not having the right papers, he said.

More than 4,400 Syrians have been sent back via Bab Al-Hawa this month, he said.

At a press conference in Istanbul on Thursday, Syria’s exiled opposition said it had received assurances from Turkish authorities that Syrian “families would not be deported to Syria.”

But Anas Abdah, the head of the Syrian National Coalition, called on all Syrians in Turkey to settle their status with the authorities.

Inside the arrivals hall in Bab Al-Hawa, Luay Mohammed, 23, said he was still in shock after being bused back in the middle of the night.

“I have no idea how I will start over” in Syria, said the young man, back in his home country for the first time in four years.

After waiting in line, he finally reached his turn at the counter, leaning in to hear the official registering his details on a computer behind the perforated glass.

Muhammed had been detained in Turkey’s southern city of Antalya, where he worked in a restaurant, he told AFP.

Around a week ago, he had rushed a friend injured in a fight with locals to hospital on his motorbike, only to find the police waiting.

“They took us to the police station,” he said, before they were transferred to a jail containing around 350 foreigners.

“They took us back to Syria in the middle of the night,” he said.

Hassan said he would try to travel east to his home city of Manbij.

But that too is complicated.

The northern city is now under the control of a military council allied to Syria’s Kurds, who are seen by Turkey and its Syrian rebel proxies as “terrorists.”

And even if he did find a job, he would be without his family.

“My family isn’t in Syria,” he said.

“Two of my brothers are still in Turkey.”


Iran cries victory after UN rejects US bid to extend arms embargo

Updated 15 August 2020

Iran cries victory after UN rejects US bid to extend arms embargo

  • Only two of the Council’s 15 members voted in favor of the US resolution seeking to extend the embargo
  • The result increases the likelihood that the US will try to unilaterally force a return of UN sanctions

TEHRAN: Iran on Saturday hailed a UN Security Council vote rejecting a US bid to extend an arms embargo on the Islamic republic, saying its foe has “never been so isolated.”
President Hassan Rouhani said the United States had failed to kill off what he called the “half alive” 2015 deal with major powers that gave Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
“The United States failed in this conspiracy with humiliation,” Rouhani told a televised news conference.
“In my opinion, this day will go down in the history of our Iran and in the history of fighting global arrogance.”
Only two of the Council’s 15 members voted in favor of the US resolution seeking to extend the embargo, highlighting the division between Washington and its European allies since President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear accord in May 2018.
Washington’s European allies all abstained, and Iran mocked the Trump administration for only winning the support of one other country, the Dominican Republic.
“In the 75 years of United Nations history, America has never been so isolated,” said foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi.
“Despite all the trips, pressure and the hawking, the United States could only mobilize a small country (to vote) with them,” he tweeted.
The result increases the likelihood that the US will try to unilaterally force a return of UN sanctions, which experts say threatens to plunge the Council into one of its worst-ever diplomatic crises.
“The Security Council’s failure to act decisively in defense of international peace and security is inexcusable,” said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The embargo on conventional arms is due to expire on October 18 under the terms of a resolution that blessed the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Since Trump pulled out of the JCPOA and slapped unilateral sanctions on Iran under a campaign of “maximum pressure,” Tehran has since taken small but escalating steps away from compliance with the nuclear accord as it presses for sanctions relief.
European allies of the United States — who, along with Russia and China, signed the deal with Iran — have voiced support for extending the 13-year-long conventional arms embargo, saying an expiry threatens stability in the Middle East.
However, their priority is to preserve the JCPOA.
The US text, seen by AFP, effectively called for an indefinite extension of the embargo on Iran, which diplomats said would threaten the nuclear agreement.
Iran says it has the right to self-defense and that a continuation of the ban would mean an end to the nuclear deal.
Pompeo announced that members had failed to back the proposal around 30 minutes before Indonesia, the current president of the Security Council, announced that the official results included two votes against and 11 abstentions.
Russia and China opposed the resolution.
“The result shows again that unilateralism enjoys no support, and bullying will fail,” China’s UN mission tweeted.
Ambassador Gunter Sautter of Germany, which abstained, said “more consultations are needed” to find a solution that is acceptable to all council members.
During a call between Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron, the leaders “discussed the urgent need for UN action to extend the arms embargo on Iran.”
Hours earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on China, France, Russia, Britain, the US, Germany and Iran to convene an emergency video summit to avoid an escalation of tensions in the Gulf.
Washington has threatened to try to force a return of UN sanctions if it is not extended by using a controversial technique called “snapback.”
Pompeo has offered the contested argument that the US remains a “participant” in the nuclear accord as it was listed in the 2015 resolution — and therefore can force a return to sanctions if it sees Iran as being in violation of its terms.
European allies have been skeptical on whether Washington can force sanctions and warn that the attempt may delegitimize the Security Council.
Nevertheless, the US is expected to deliver the snapback letter next week, AFP understands.
Analysts suspect that Washington purposefully put forward a hard-line draft that it knew Council members would not be able to accept.
“The fact is that everybody at the UN believes this (resolution) is just a prelude to a US effort to trigger snapback and sink the Iranian nuclear deal,” Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the International Crisis Group, told AFP.