Türkiye Announces ‘Voluntary’ Return of Over 500,000 Syrian Refugees

Syrian migrant Mohammad Dima with his children in front of their shelter in Ulus district, the old part of the Turkish capital Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022. (AP)
Syrian migrant Mohammad Dima with his children in front of their shelter in Ulus district, the old part of the Turkish capital Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022. (AP)
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Türkiye Announces ‘Voluntary’ Return of Over 500,000 Syrian Refugees

Syrian migrant Mohammad Dima with his children in front of their shelter in Ulus district, the old part of the Turkish capital Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022. (AP)
Syrian migrant Mohammad Dima with his children in front of their shelter in Ulus district, the old part of the Turkish capital Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022. (AP)

Türkiye’s deputy Interior Minister Ismail Catakli refuted on Monday reports about the compulsory deportation of Syrian refugees after being forced to sign voluntary return forms.

He affirmed that his country seeks to provide a safe environment for their return in the areas it is clearing in northern Syria.

Catakli announced that a total of 531,326 Syrians have so far returned to the safe zones established by Ankara in northern Syria, adding that there are currently 3,611,143 Syrians in Türkiye.

He affirmed that as is the situation in other countries, Türkiye is also affected by migrants, noting that Turkish security services are making strenuous efforts to prevent illegal migration.

The number of complaints from Syrians residing in Türkiye and human rights organizations has recently increased, citing “an escalation of forced deportations of young people, some of whom are studying in Turkish universities and others who hold temporary protection cards,” after they were forced to sign voluntary return forms.

Many Syrians said their situation worsened in Türkiye after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in early May a plan to encourage one million Syrian refugees to return to their country by building them housing and local infrastructure there.

Some said that the pressure of the Turkish opposition, in light of preparation for the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, prompted Erdogan's government to expedite the deportation of Syrians.

Türkiye has rejected allegations of arbitrary detention and deportation of dozens of Syrians to their country during the past months.

The Presidency of Migration Management described a recent report by Human Rights Watch, in which it accused Turkish authorities of arresting and deporting Syrian refugees arbitrarily, as “scandalous and far from reality.”

It affirmed that Syrians are signing the voluntary return form in the presence of a witness, and that they are directed to the way out towards their country.

It also indicated in a statement that over 500,000 Syrian refugees have returned “voluntarily” to areas in northern Syria since 2017 and accused the human rights organization of ignoring international praise for Türkiye’s “exemplary” policy adopted regarding refugees.



Israeli Forces Advance in Southern Gaza, Tanks Active in Rafah

This picture taken in Khan Yunis shows smoke billowing during Israeli military operations in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)
This picture taken in Khan Yunis shows smoke billowing during Israeli military operations in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)
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Israeli Forces Advance in Southern Gaza, Tanks Active in Rafah

This picture taken in Khan Yunis shows smoke billowing during Israeli military operations in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)
This picture taken in Khan Yunis shows smoke billowing during Israeli military operations in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)

Israeli forces advanced deeper into some towns on the eastern side of Khan Younis in southern Gaza on Thursday, hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US lawmakers he was actively engaged in bringing hostages home.
Fighting in recent days has centered around the eastern towns of Bani Suaila, Al-Zanna, and Al-Karara, where the army said on Wednesday it had found the bodies of five Israelis who were killed in Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel and held in Gaza since, Reuters said.
Hamas militants took more than 250 hostages in the early morning raid into southern Israel and killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel retaliated by vowing to eradicate Hamas in Gaza in a nine-month war that has killed more than 39,000 Palestinians, Gaza health officials say.
Several were wounded in the eastern towns during Israeli tank and aerial shelling, while an airstrike east of Khan Younis killed four people, Palestinian health officials said.
Israeli bombardment intensified in several areas in Rafah, near the border with Egypt, as tanks operated north, west and in the town center, residents and medics said. Several Palestinians were also wounded in Israeli fire earlier on Thursday.
The Israeli military said forces operating in Khan Younis killed dozens of militants and dismantled around 50 military infrastructures, while it continued activities in Rafah, killing two militants.
In a speech to the US Congress, Netanyahu said his government was actively involved in seeking the release of remaining hostages and was confident they would succeed.
DISAPPOINTING SPEECH
Hamas described the comments by Netanyahu as "pure lies" accusing him of thwarting efforts to end the war.
Netanyahu's comments also disappointed many displaced Palestinians who had hoped for a clearer signal of an imminent end to the fighting, which has laid the overcrowded enclave to waste and created a humanitarian crisis.
"It was depressing, he didn't even mention ceasefire at all, not even once," said Tamer Al-Burai, a resident of Gaza City, now displaced in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.
"People awaited some surprise, a ceasefire announcement by Netanyahu as a gift to (US President Joe) Biden, but they slept with much disappointment, as Netanyahu said he was determined to pursue war," Burai told Reuters via a chat app.
Deir Al-Balah, where tanks haven't yet invaded, is currently overcrowded with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, displaced from other areas of the enclave, home to 2.3 million people.
"Netanyahu spoke in a play, he spoke to clowns," said Burai.
Diplomatic efforts by Arab mediators, backed by the United States, to conclude a ceasefire deal, seemed to be on hold, as Israel was expected to send a delegation for more talks next week.
In northern Gaza, an Israeli air strike on a house in the Sheikh Radwan suburb killed four people, medics said, while seven Palestinians arrived at a hospital in central Gaza who had been detained by Israeli forces and released in an area close to the border.