Syrian Lawyer: Rami Azmi Al-Kasem - Any deportations of Syrians to north Syria are in breach of Turkey’s temporary protection law
All people living in Turkey are bound by Turkish law, and in the case of any crimes committed, even petty crimes, everyone shall be subject to Turkish law. This also includes Syrians in Turkey who are subject to the temporary protection.
However, there have been continuous reports of Syrians being arbitrarily deported from Turkey to areas in north Syria. It has been reverberating among Syrians in Turkey that many of the Syrians deported are being held in a situation that forces them to sign a ‘voluntary return’ document. Such cases would clearly be in breach of the temporary protection law in Turkey which states that “temporary protection may be provided for foreigners who have been forced to leave their country, cannot return to the country that they have left, and have arrived at or crossed the borders of Turkey in a mass influx situation seeking immediate and temporary protection.”
To learn more about the legal status of this matter, we have interviewed Lawyer Rami Azmi Al-Kasem, who is a member of SACD and Association of Free Syrian Lawyers in Hatay, and an expert in Turkish law.
- We have seen recent reports on Syrians being deported from Turkey, can you describe to us exactly what is happening?
Around 150 people were deported to areas in north Syria. Police were doing general inspection and 150 were immediately taken to police stations. Some don't have kimlik, no travel permit, most have kimlik and work permit. But still they were taken to deportation center for immigration service. They were made to sign a document for voluntary return under unknown conditions. Then they were taken to areas on the border and then deported to Syria.
- What is the legal basis for Turkish authorities to undertake such actions?
This amounts to forced return. This deportation is against the law. The temporary protection law in Turkey states that “Temporary protection may be provided for foreigners who have been forced to leave their country, cannot return to the country that they have left, and have arrived at or crossed the borders of Turkey in a mass influx situation seeking immediate and temporary protection.” The Immigration Service is the authority directly responsible. There is an article which states that forcing people to return is strictly forbidden.
Any person who holds the kimlik is bound to temporary protection and it is forbidden that any authority forcibly sends him/her back, unless they sign a voluntary return document. Unfortunately, for lack of knowledge, some people signed and they ended up in Syria. Those who refuse to sign are forced to stay in the deportation center.
- Is this in compliance with international law guarantees that refugees must not be returned?
No it is not in compliance at all. International law and Turkish law as well specified cases when temporary protection is lifted. First there is a general lift, as in lifting protection for all Syrians, which happens when the conflict in Syria ends. Yet in terms of individual cases, the temporary protection is lifted if the person leaves to another country by giving up on his/her temporary protection and applying for an international travel permit.
Second, when he/she return back to Syria voluntarily. They apply for a voluntary return and give up on their temporary protection.
In the above two cases, one has wait five years before applying again for temporary protection. But in some cases submitting an administrative lawsuit in court can give back the right for temporary protection. In other cases, one can apply for a ‘plea for mercy’ at the Immigration Service where a committee decides whether it is accepted or rejected.
Third, when a third country provides him/her protection such as those who fled to Germany or any other country. This nulls the temporary protection they had in Turkey.
Fourth, we apply to turn the temporary protection into a tourist permit. But this requires that the person has an entry stamp. This entails that the person also gave up on his/her temporary protection.
Fifth and last, temporary protection is lifted in the case of death.
- In the scenario of someone committing a petty crime, what is the punishment they are to expect? Aren't they supposed to be subject to Turkish law?
Yes that's correct. Ideally, any person living in Turkish territory must be bound by the Turkish law and is punished according to it. However, often in cases of misdemeanours like petty crimes and street fights, the Turkish police is forcibly deporting the person, without trial, after they sign a ‘voluntary return’ document. Yet if the Syrian commits a crime, then he/she should be taken to court and imprisoned, not deported.
- How can we guarantee the rights of Syrian refugees are protected?
We must inform the Syrian refugees in Turkey of their rights and duties. We at the Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity and the Association for Free Syrian Lawyers are trying to raise awareness with regards to this issue, in order to guide the Syrians and warn of the situations where they could face forced return.
The most important thing to mention here is that if the person does not sign the ‘voluntary return’ document, then he/she could stay in the deportation center for a period of 6 months which may be extended for another six months. During this period, the person may be released with the help of a lawyer.
- What are the rights that the Syrian refugees should be aware of?
As long as they are living under Turkish sovereignty, their are entitled to the same rights and duties as Turkish citizens. The lack of knowledge that Syrians have with regards to Turkish law is what's causing them problems. Syrians must get in touch with SACD and Association of Free Syrian Lawyers, of which both have expert lawyers, who can help and guide them.
- Do these people have access to legal aid? What is the role of the UNHCR and its lawyers?
We are trying to help as much as we can. But unfortunately, the UNHCR and other relevant UN institutions are silent and not providing any support. Sadly, there are no organizations that are properly informing Syrians in Turkey of their rights and duties.
- Are Turkish organizations proving any legal aid?
There are a few organizations in Antakya, Gaziantep and Istanbul, but they only provide consultations. Most of the Syrians who fall into this situation are eventually being deported because they cannot afford hiring a lawyer. I would like to mention here that there are many Syrians in deportation centers or police stations, whose cases can be easily won should they have the chance to hire a lawyer.
- What can the SACD do for them?
The SACD has a crucial role to raise awareness among Syrians on the temporary protection law in Turkey and what it entails from rights and duties. We also must provide legal aid and help hire lawyers for those who are held in deportation centers or police stations.