Turkey’s Syrian refugees waiting in limbo – NY Times

Turkey’s recent shift in policy and attitude towards the country’s Syrians has come as a painful shock, adding to the cloud of uncertainty hanging over millions of refugees, wrote Carlotta Gall in the New York Times.

Turkish authorities over the past few months have cracked down on Syrian refugees in the country, most notably in Istanbul, which is home to at least 500,000 Syrians.

The refugees are being forced to relocate to their original province of registration, where job opporunities are slim and racism rampant, amid increasing reports of Syrians being transported back to their war-torn homeland. Officials are also cracking down on Syrians working illegally.

After welcoming the refugees for eight years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is pushing for a radical solution, involving the resettlement of refugees in a region of northern Syria controlled by the United States and its Kurdish allies, the article said.

Turkey’s demand for a buffer zone along Turkey’s border with Syria to keep out Kurdish forces that pose a security threat has been repackaged, Gall wrote, as a haven for Syrians fleeing the war.

Ankara has even said it will put its own operation plan into effect if Turkish troops do not control the envisaged zone in northeast Syria within a few weeks, in addition to threatening to “open the gates” for large numbers of refugees to head into Europe as many did before a migration deal.

Turkey and the EU in 2016 agreed on a deal, which aimed to cut the influx of Syrian refugees arriving in Greece. According to the deal, the EU promised the allocation of 6 billion euros in aid to Turkey to help migrants.

Long seen as a champion for Syrian refugees, the Turkish president’s tougher stance arrives on the heels of his ruling party’s greatest defeat in the March local elections in its 17 years in power, the New York Times article said.

Mohanned Ghabash, an activist who works for a nongovernmental organization in the southern town of Gaziantep, near the Syrian border, told the New York Times that the new policies are “a disaster for Syrian people”.

Syrian workers were being told to acquire work permits and pay social security, neither of which are possible.

“The factories laid us off because we have no work permits,” Ahmed Atalai, 24, said. The young man left Istanbul, but after a month looking for work in southern Turkey gave up on life in the country.

Regarding the safe zone, many Syrian refugees oppose any Turkish military expansion into Syria, the article said. However, for many more, Turkey remains their best ally with the Turkish-controlled safe zone preferable to Syrian government or Kurdish control, the New York Times said.