Hacı Bişkin / DUVAR
Following Turkey's announcement that authorities would no longer prevent refugees from leaving the country for Europe, large numbers of refugees rushed to Turkey's border with Greece and Bulgaria. Many also left on boats for the Greek islands, uninhibited by the Turkish coast guard. Yet many of Turkey's refugees wish to stay in the country.
Turkey's controversial announcement came after at least 36 Turkish soldiers were killed in what the government described as a Syrian air strike against Turkish forces in the Syrian rebel-held province of Idlib. Confusion and chaos ensued as refugees boarded buses to the Greek and Bulgarian borders, only to be met with closed borders and tear gas from police on the other side.
Meanwhile, many other refugees opt to stay in Turkey, indicating that it is preferable to Europe since they are able to freely practice their religion, have become acclimated to living in the country, do not wish to leave their Turkish friends behind, and do not want to risk their lives attempting to reach European soil.
But many of them worry that even if though they tell authorities that they do not want to leave, they will be forcibly deported. For instance, Hassan Muhammed, a Syrian from Aleppo who works at a restaurant in Istanbul's Haseki neighborhood, says that he would want to leave for another country even if Turkey's land borders its neighbors were to be fully opened.
“Turkey is a beautiful country and the people are great. No one has ever said one bad thing to me. My family is in Syria, and I'm not thinking of going to another country, because I feel closer to my family here. Once again, people are heading to other countries on boats. They can drown in the sea and die at any moment,” Muhammed said.
“We were forced to leave our country. If my country's situation improves one day, I won't go to Europe but to the land on which I was born. Is Germany better than where I came from? No, everywhere is the same. When we go to a different country we receive the same treatment. Maybe I would never see my family again. I know that I wouldn't be able to establish such easy contact. No matter what, I would not risk dying by trying to reach Europe,” he added.
Another Syrian man, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed similar feelings, adding that if he was stopped by police in Istanbul today, he could be deported back to Syria, likely referring to the alleged deportations of many Syrians who were living in provinces in Turkey in which they were not registered. The temporary guest status that the Turkish government granted to Syrian refugees requires them to stay in a certain province, a policy that authorities turned a blind eye to prior to last year's local elections.
After the June 2019 victory of opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu, reports emerged indicating that large numbers of Syrians in Istanbul were either being sent back to their registered provinces, or even deported back to Syria, a practice which critics of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) say is a reaction to the party's major losses in Istanbul and other cities last year, which were partly attributed to the Turkish population's widespread discontent with the large Syrian refugee population, which totals around 3.6 million.
“It appears that life is better in countries like Germany, France and Switzerland. Those close to me want to leave for this reason. But many of those who have left are unhappy. There is morality in Istanbul, there is Islam. I can freely practice my religion. I can pray at the mosque whenever I want. Sometimes I feel as if I am living in Syria. I don't feel like a foreigner. In Turkey I am closer to my family in Syria and I can receive news from them. What will change if I go to another country? As long as my country is not stable, it is meaningless to go to another country, and that is why I will continue living in Turkey,” the man said.
Another man said that while he knows that many people in Turkey want the Syrians gone, he still intends to stay.
“When I first came to Turkey I thought that I wasn't going to stay for long. With time I got used to it. It does not even cross my mind to leave and go to another country. Now when I say that I don't want to go, I feel as if they will force me to do so. I feel like they could kick me out at any moment. I know that people don't want us but I have Turkish friends that love us. They don't want us to go. I've established a routine here and I don't want to disrupt it,” the man said.