Lives put at risk as thousands face forcible return to warzones under air attack
Martin Chulov in Beirut, Shawn Carrie and Asmaa Al Omar in Istanbul
Mon 29 Jul 2019
Countries neighbouring the still rumbling Syrian war are rounding up hundreds of workers and sending many back to volatile parts of the country, raising fears of mass deportations that will imperil large numbers of refugees.
Syrians living in Istanbul and Beirut have been targeted by immigration authorities in recent weeks, with more than 1,000 detained in Turkey’s biggest city last weekend and given 30 days to leave.
Some refugees described a whirlwind deportation process of being transferred through three detention facilities. Their mobile phones confiscated, they were held incommunicado from families or lawyers and forced to sign papers saying they “voluntarily” agreed to return to war-ravaged Syria.
The scale and speed of the arrests mark a reversal of Turkey’s open-door policy towards Syrian refugees – a hallmark of the war’s early years during which up to 5 million people crossed the Turkish border.
In the Lebanese capital, refugees, many of them undocumented workers, have spoken of being summarily dismissed from their jobs since early July as part of a new government decree, the stated aim of which is to prioritise Lebanese labour over foreign workers. The new law comes amid heightened political rhetoric over the fate of Syrian migrants, with Lebanese allies of the Syrian leader insisting that the war is all but over and the country is safe.
While tensions between refugees and host governments have risen in recent years, the current moves pose the most pointed threat yet to more than 5 million Syrians living in Turkey and Lebanon – two countries that readily took in those fleeing the fighting as the war intensified from 2012.