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Syrian Earthquake Refugees may be forced back to affected areas

Following the earthquakes, the government issued directives allowing for temporary movement of refugees within the affected regions.

Raghad left the southern Turkish city of Antakya, where she had lived for the previous three years, after earthquakes destroyed her home.

Following the disappearance of her father during the Syrian Civil War, the 26-year-old Syrian refugee settled there with her mother, four younger sisters, and 4-year-old nephew. It was her responsibility to get her family to safety when the earthquakes struck on February 6.

Raghad, who was only wearing her pajamas, led her family through the chilly night until she convinced a bus driver to accept 2,000 lira ($106) to transport them to Istanbul, the only location where they have extended family.

They arrived in Istanbul after a 17-hour trek on icy, damaged roads, and are currently staying in housing supplied by a volunteer. Raghad’s uncle and Syrian fiancé, who also lives in Istanbul, are helping to support them. Raghad, however, may be compelled to go for Antakya in less than two months as a result of a government decree made shortly following the earthquakes.

Raghad said to Al Jazeera, “We have nowhere to go. “The entire area under our house has been leveled. We’ll live on the streets or in a tent if we return.

Raghad claimed that during the earthquakes, all that she and her family owned was lost in an instant. Her grandfather’s bequest money, educational credentials, passport, and the white bridal dress she had planned to wear in March, which she regarded to be her most significant item, were all gone. She explained, “I’d only just gotten it last night. The walls began to collapse around us when I noticed it hanging on the closet door. Provisos governing

In the ten southern Turkish provinces ravaged by this month’s earthquakes, more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees, according to government estimates, resided.

Similar to Raghad’s family, others rely on temporary or international protection status, which limits them to the areas where they are officially registered residents. They were unable to leave their provinces without permission up until the earthquakes.

The day following the earthquakes, Turkish authorities issued a decree allowing refugees in the 10 provinces to migrate to other cities or provinces, with the exception of Istanbul, for up to 90 days if they could arrange their own housing.

However, after a large number of refugees fled to Istanbul in the days that followed the earthquakes, the Directorate General of Migration Management changed its mind on a case-by-case basis, allowing families who had already arrived in the city to stay for up to 60 days.

On February 13, the Ministry of Interior issued a second directive allowing individuals with international or temporary protection residing in any of the five worst-affected provinces—Kahramanmaras, Hatay, Gaziantep, Adiyaman, and Malatya—a 60-day exemption from the requirement to obtain permission before traveling to other provinces.

They must submit an application for a 60-day stay permit at the Directorate General of Migration Management once they reach another province. Adana, Osmaniye, Sanliurfa, Kilis, and Diyarbakir are the other five earthquake-affected regions where travelers must first obtain a travel authorization.

The question of whether the second instruction supersedes the first is still open, and Al Jazeera made numerous attempts to get the authorities to provide clarification but received no response.

Having been awarded refugee status in a European nation, Paal Nesse, secretary general of the Norwegian Organization of Asylum Seekers, stated that the individual “should be able to roam freely inside that country.”

Comparatively speaking to other nations that have ratified the refugee convention without any reservations, he claimed that Turkey’s legal systems had some limitations. Only Europeans in Turkey have the complete right to apply for asylum, but Turkey established an exception for Syrians, enabling them to do so after registering. This is due to Turkey’s interpretation of the refugee convention, which places limitations based on location.

He continued by saying it was possible that Turkey’s decision to impose the travel restrictions was tied to the country’s economic woes. He speculated that it might have been a means of preventing too many refugees from migrating to Istanbul and other major cities.


The government’s directions have been criticized by Syrian activists and human rights groups as “inhumane” and “unrealistic,” claiming that refugee families would not be able to reconstruct their lives in southern Turkey in such a short period of time. As no long-term solutions will have been found by then, this 60- to 90-day break is unfeasible, according to Human Rights Watch’s Emma Sinclair-Webb, who oversees the country’s affairs.

She explained that these choices were only temporary band-aids for a significant interior displacement. “The provinces affected by the earthquake have very little work, little safe housing, and inadequate infrastructure.”

The Turkish government was urged by Sinclair-Webb to create a “more sustainable, long-term policy that respects people’s rights to establish secure living arrangements and access to education and jobs to sustain and reconstruct their lives.”

The judgment was dubbed “arbitrary and brutal” by Taha Elgazi, a Syrian activist who works on refugee rights in Turkey.

Where will Syrian refugees go when they leave? Do you mean piles of debris?” Not’restriction,’ but facilitation

The instructions, according to Enas Al-Najjar, a Syrian member and the Syrian-Turkish Joint Committee’s director of communications, were a first step made to aid in the movement and transit of Syrian refugees affected by the earthquakes.

The deputy interior minister of Turkey and the director general of migration management are also members of the committee, which was established in 2019 on behalf of the Syrian National Coalition, a rebel force.

She said, “I’m surprised at these criticisms. “We [the committee members] asked for this license. In order to make it easier for people to get to their families, it was intended to make sure that no one was left on the streets.

She claimed that on the first night of the earthquakes, when Syrian refugees contacted the committee to protest about their inability to flee through airports and bus stations, they demanded the decision.

The choices, she continued, were just “an initial strategy” in response to the enormous demand for accommodations following the quakes and the overwhelming situation.

We searched for immediate fixes. Al-Najjar stated. “After three months, we have yet to see what will transpire, especially given that reconstruction would take a year. There’s a chance these orders will be renewed.

Elgazi demanded a minimum of a year-long extension to the 60 or 90-day grace period and expressed concern over a government-imposed quota that only allowed for 25 percent of foreign residents in particular neighborhoods to have residency permits.

Elgazi claimed that when this regulation went into force in July, the interior ministry in effect barred foreigners from relocating to at least 1,200 neighborhoods nationwide.

The quota, according to Elgazi, is the main issue currently confronting Syrian refugees who have been uprooted from southern Turkey.

They won’t be able to obtain residency permits if they wind up in neighborhoods that are off-limits to foreigners because their families stay there, he said. In turn, this will prevent them from using social and government services, such as healthcare and education. Al-Najjar claimed that because the quota has been temporarily suspended, persons who have been impacted by the earthquakes are free to live wherever their relatives are.

The concern is what they will do after three months because they can’t transfer their residency to those neighborhoods, she told Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera has contacted authorities at the Ministry of Interior and the Directorate General of Migration Management by phone and email for comment, but has not received a response. escalating anti-Syrian attitude According to Ankara, since the Syrian civil conflict broke out in 2011 more than $40 billion has been spent to house refugees from that country who have entered Turkey. Although Turkey is now hosting the largest refugee population in the world, the majority of its inhabitants have welcomed Syrian refugees into their nation.

Yet, the roughly four million Syrian migrants, who some Turkish citizens view as competition for jobs due to the recent financial crisis and economic downturn, have stoked public resentment and hostility.

Over the past week, animosity toward Syrians in Turkey has increased as reports of looting and robbing by Syrians in the wake of the earthquakes have spread. Far-right lawmakers are once again demanding for the expulsion of Syrians, and anti-Syrian chants have reemerged on Turkish social media. Elgazi predicts that the situation for Syrian refugees will worsen over the next six months as pressure from anti-immigrant sentiment increases on the Turkish government ahead of the general election in May.

The environment that has developed since the earthquake and the escalating anti-Syrian rhetoric, he cautioned, will only encourage refugee families to leave for Europe or return to Syria. Several hundred earthquake-surviving Syrian families have already returned to the country’s war-torn interior.

It seems impossible for Raghad to make preparations for her family. This time feels the hardest, despite the fact that they have gone through upheaval on numerous occasions as a result of the Syrian conflict.

She told Al Jazeera that even after previous relocations, she still knew what to anticipate. Yet, I’m unsure of what will happen this time.

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