Syrian legal activists on the front line in Turkey

Tense feelings towards Syrians in Turkey have finally boiled over, with the government implementing a host of integration measures on the refugee community. Such measures have led Syrian justice activists to fight back to protect their rights.

Turkey continues to host more than 3.6 million Syrian refugeesa number that increased significantly between 2013 and 2017 before leveling off, according to the Turkish Presidency of Migration Management.

At the same time, the Turkish government has undertaken reforms to create a national asylum system in line with EU standards. As Hussam al-Nahar, a Syrian journalist and activist based in Izmir, explains, the first turkish law “on foreigners and international protection” was created in 2013.

However, it does not grant refugees the right to settle in Turkey or obtain citizenship, which poses integration problems. Moreover, only applicants fleeing a member state of the Council of Europe can obtain asylum; The Syrians, for their part, can only claim “temporary protection”.

“Social violence always affects women; even when she touches men, they suffer with them”

Until 2016, Syrians automatically received a “Kimlik” temporary protection card, renewable after two years.

Slowly, new instructions from the Ministry of Interior tightened the procedures, leading to momentous changes: the Turkish government now examines each request separately and has the right to refuse to grant the “Kimlik” after an indefinite period, exposing the Syrians to uncertainty.

Through daily media monitoring and analysis, Hussam shines a light on the injustices facing the Syrian community.

His articles closely follow recent legal developments from the European Court of Justice and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, as well as Erdogan‘s ‘voluntary return plan’, aimed at relocating 1.5 million Syrians. in northern Syria.

In August, the fear reached another level, when Ankara opened the door to talks with Bashar al-Assad, radically reversing its 12-year-old position. For the journalist, “it is essential to publicize evictions and discrimination on a daily basis, because the current legal framework does not fulfill its obligations”.

Indeed, as Ghazwan Koronful, director of the Association of Free Syrian Lawyers (FSLA) founded in 2012 and currently with 106 members across northern Syria and Turkey, xenophobic rhetoric has increased significantly since 2019 and has been associated with forced displacement as Erdogan’s party lost municipal elections in Istanbul and Ankara.

While calls for the expulsion of Syrians and racist attacks have been present since the start of the economic crisis in 2017, they have been relatively muted.

While “the subject of refugees must be a strictly legal and humanitarian issue, and not a card played by political groups”, it is currently highly politicized in the political arena.

While the slightest mistake can become a pretext for expulsion or an altercation with Turkish nationals, Syrians live in constant fear and hypervigilance: “people don’t even dare to speak Arabic on the phone in public spaces”.

To deal with the situation, the FSLA has put in place educational strategies aimed at providing Syrians with a simple understanding of Turkish laws: four leaflets in Arabic summarizing the legal background they need to know, including the allocation of work, temporary protection and residence permits; 4000 copies have been printed and distributed to NGOs until a digital version is available.

FSLA also organizes meetings in areas where Syrians are concentrated, such as Antakya, Gaziantep, Urfa or Mersin and helps them clarify their legal situation, rights and duties. Finally, legal advice is offered via Facebook Lives and Syrian radio broadcasts.

For his part, renowned refugee rights activist Taha Elgazi voluntarily and independently assists victims of racism and violent hate crimes and their families by following the legal process and being in close contact with rights organizations. humans and Turkish lawyers.

“Defending children’s rights to education and helping adults learn the language, he believes, will help improve the rights of Syrians, because 35% of children are still deprived of education according to the Turkish government”

Taha explains that meeting with Turkish politicians is essential in the hope that they will tone down their anti-Syrian rhetoric.

His advocacy visits included prominent politicians such as Republican People’s Party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, Future Party leader Ahmet Davutoğlu, Democracy and Progress Party leader Ali Babacan, Republican Party MP from people Mustafa Sezgin Tanrıkulu and People’s Democratic Party MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu.

Despite the threats and slanders the activist has faced, small victories have made it worth it.

In particular, they participated in the creation of the first “Center for Refugee and Immigrant Rights” at the Istanbul Bar at the end of 2021, which should “create a safe environment for the rights of Syrian refugees in Turkey”.

Building bridges between Turkish and Syrian societies and collaborating with political parties is also important in the eyes of the doctor and general coordinator of the “Solutions table” collective, Mehdi Daoud, who regrets that “all the failures attributable to the economic authorities are currently blamed “. on the Syrians.

Defending children’s rights to education and helping adults learn the language, he believes, will help improve the rights of Syrians, as 35% of children are still deprived of education according to the Turkish government. His dream is to open a private university, to make knowledge accessible to all.

Taha Elgazi, Ghazwan Koronful and Nesreen Alresh, chairwoman of the board of directors of the Jana Watan organization, finally highlight the central issue of marriages of underage women in Syrian society, which can be prosecuted under Turkish law.

Since polygamy is also illegal, single women religiously marrying Turkish men who are already engaged to a Turkish woman face the same risk.

When presenting research Is Syria Dafe for Return? The returnee’s point of view, comprehensive report giving a voice to Syrian returnees and assessing the situation in northern Syria, Nesreen again underlines the great difficulties faced by women and young people: “Social violence always has an impact on women; even when it affects men, they suffer with them. For example, when their husbands are arrested or deported, women find themselves alone, in charge of the whole family.

His team regularly travels to cities to document violence and reassure victims. She listened to 50 testimonies describing fights between Turkish and Syrian children which then degenerated into altercations between families.

Some children, she explains, even bring knives to school, leaving Syrian women terrified. “Today, we hear racist remarks from the mouths of politicians, party leaders and mayors, when racism should in fact be considered a crime under common law,” she concludes.

Elise Daniaud is a researcher and doctoral student specializing in Russian-Syrian relations, the Syrian conflict and the analysis of political discourse.

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