Moroccan migrants deported from Turkey to northern Syria
Turkish authorities deported two Moroccan nationals to war-torn Syria earlier this year after they attempted to illegally enter Europe through Turkey's land border, the individuals told Middle East Eye.
Azeddin Al-Remash and Nabil Rochdi were deported to the Syrian city of Azaz in January, despite repeatedly informing Turkish authorities that they were Moroccan nationals and had no connection with Syria.
Remash said he was arrested after he tried to cross into Greece and was subsequently sent to a deportation center in Edirne and later to the southern city of Adana.
"I informed Turkish authorities of my Moroccan citizenship and presented my papers. However, they insisted on sending me to Syria, disregarding my claims," Remash said.
"They didn't even provide an interpreter to [translate to] us. Despite our efforts to communicate, they sent us to Syria against our will. I have no connection to Syria."
Roshdi, the other Moroccan national, entered Turkey through Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen Airport before he attempted to cross into Bulgaria, where he was apprehended by Turkish soldiers.
"Despite my repeated statements that I am not Syrian, they forcibly sent me to Syria," he said.
"I informed them that I should be returned to Morocco, but my pleas were ignored. With no translators present, we struggled to contact Moroccan authorities," he added.
Both men said they were also mistreated by Turkish officers during their detention.
Turkish officials told MEE that state institutions responsible for northern Syria were monitoring the situation and taking the necessary steps to ensure the safe return of Moroccan nationals to their homeland.
The officials spoke to MEE on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media.
MEE reached out to Turkey's Immigration Authority for comment but did not receive a response by time of publication.
The head of Turkey's anti-smuggling and drug department at the Bab al-Salama, near the city of Azaz, told local media that the Moroccan Embassy in Ankara blocked the men's phone numbers after their repeated attempts to contact consular staff.
He added that after the men were sent their passports and National ID's from Istanbul, their case was handed over to a court in Azaz.
Sources familiar with Turkey's recent surge in deportations informed MEE that the Turkish Interior Ministry had set daily deportation quotas for the police and gendarmerie.
These operations target individuals lacking valid residence permits or proper documentation. Due to these quotas, individuals with temporary residency documents are sometimes included in deportation lists for minor violations.
Turkish officials have acknowledged concerns regarding the deportation process, with an official telling MEE that, "Syrians from Aleppo are spontaneously deported to Tal Abyad, and Syrians from Raqqa are sent to Idlib."
This practice poses logistical challenges as individuals often need to be relocated to their respective provinces, another official noted.
According to the UN, Turkey hosts around four million refugees, 3.6 million of whom are forcibly displaced from Syria.
More than 500,000 Syrians are currently registered as living in Istanbul, while cities further south such as Gaziantep, Sanliurfa and Hatay have each taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees.
In recent months, Turkey has stepped up its deportation efforts after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to return one million Syrians to northern Syria.
Many of the individuals deported have claimed they were forced to sign "voluntary return" papers.
Although Turkey is party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which prohibits returning refugees to a country where they may be at risk of harm or persecution, the country has an exemption by which it recognises only European refugees, leaving Syrians residing in Turkey in uncertainty.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.