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Turkey illegally deporting Syrians ahead of anticipated 'safe zone': Amnesty

Amnesty International finds that hundreds of refugees have been forcibly moved
Amnesty reveals 20 confirmed cases where people were forcibly deported from country (AFP/file photo)

For the past few months, the Turkish government has been illegally sending Syrian refugees back into war-torn areas before Ankara has established its planned "safe zone" along the Turkish border, a report by Amnesty International revealed.

While Ankara has said that roughly 315,000 Syrians have left Turkey for Syria on a voluntary basis, the human rights organisation found that hundreds of them have actually been forcibly moved.

"Turkey's claim that refugees from Syria are choosing to walk straight back into the conflict is dangerous and dishonest. Rather, our research shows that people are being tricked or forced into returning," Anna Shea, a researcher on refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

"Turkey deserves recognition for hosting more than 3.6 million women, men and children from Syria for over eight years," she added. "But it cannot use this generosity as an excuse to flout international and domestic law by deporting people to an active conflict zone."

The deportations are illegal according to Amnesty, as they expose refugees "to a real risk of serious human rights violations".

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While Turkey has plans to create a safe zone in the northeast region of Syria along the Turkish border to host Syrians that have been displaced in the country's civil war, it has yet to be established and the area is just now coming under Ankara's control.

 On 9 October, Turkey began an offensive into northern Syria against the Kurdish-led Peoples Protection Units (YPG), which led to a ceasefire agreed upon by Washington and Ankara.

The report by Amnesty revealed 20 confirmed cases where people were forcibly deported from the country.

It also found that many were "coerced or misled when signing so-called 'voluntary return' documents", with some Syrians threatened with violence and even beaten, in order to get them to sign these papers.

The Turkish government announced in July that they wold begin to "relocate" unregistered Syrians living in Istanbul.

 The country is home to three and a half million Syrian refugees, with 550,000 officially registered in the capital of Istanbul.

While President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Pan-Islamic vision had created space for the massive influx of Syrians fleeing war, anti-refugee sentiment and tensions have been increasing.

"The Turkish authorities must stop forcibly returning people to Syria and ensure that anyone who has been deported is able to re-enter Turkey safely and re-access essential services," Shea said.

"The European Union and the rest of the international community, instead of devoting their energies to keeping people seeking asylum from their territories, should dramatically increase resettlement commitments for Syrian refugees from Turkey."