Turkey denies it ejected Syrians following unrest in refugee camp


A Syrian refugee child helps a man to cut wood at a refugee camp near the northern city of Azaz on the Syria-Turkey border, on Jan. 9, 2013.


Achilleas Zavallis

Turkey denied reports on Thursday that it had deported Syrian refugees following yesterday's news of unrest at a border camp.

Reports claimed hundreds of refugees had been forcibly ejected after Syrians at the Suleymansah refugee camp protesting living conditions clashed with military police, according to Reuters.

"Between 600 and 700 have been deported. The security forces are still looking at the footage, and if they see more they will deport them," a camp official said.

However, multiple Turkish government sources denied the reports. 

“We refute the deportation claims; nearly 500 people return every day to Syria of their own free will. The status we provide for Syrian refugees is temporary protection; without their will, not a single Syrian national can be sent back,” an unnamed Turkish official told the Hurriyet Daily News.

Turkey's foreign ministry claimed only 50 to 60 people - some who may have been involved in the violence - voluntarily left the camp.

"Some people have returned since last night, the numbers are closer to 50 or 60, and yes some of these may have been involved in the provocations from yesterday but they returned of their own free will," foreign ministry spokesman Levent Gumrukcu said.

About 130 refugees have agreed to leave the camp after being told they would be prosecuted if they stayed, according to The New York Times. A local Turkish government official told the Times expelled camp residents would be sent to another camp “for a second chance.”

Camp residents said Wednesday's violent protest began after three brothers were injured in a fire caused by faulty electrics. One brother later died in a hospital.  But a Turkish official said the protest began after about 200 Syrians were denied entry into the camp of 35,000, which is already full.

The UN refugee agency voiced its concern and said it would investigate the matter. 

"UNHCR is very concerned with reports of a serious incident and allegations of possible deportations from Akcakale Tent City in the past 24 hours," said Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

UNHCR Senior Communications Officer Sybella Wilkes told the Guardian:

"We are very concerned that there are allegations of possible deportations from the camp in the past day. That would be a breach of international law. It would violate the principle of non-refoulement, because with the situation in Syria people’s lives could be in danger." 

About 200,000 refugees live in camps along the Turkish-Syria border, and 70,000 displaced Syrians live in rented houses in Turkey, according to Agence France-Presse