Skip to main content

Rights groups condemn Turkey's 'illegal' transfers of detainees out of Syria

Sixty-three Syrian Arabs and Kurds have been transferred to Turkey over suspected links to 'terrorist' organisations
Turkey-backed Syrian rebels take part in a military exercise in Ghandoura, in the northeastern countryside of Syria's Aleppo province, on 14 January 2021 (AFP)

Human rights groups have condemned Ankara's "illegal" decision to transfer dozens of Syrian detainees to Turkey, where a number of them face life in prison without parole.

Sixty-three Syrian Arab and Kurdish detainees who were captured by Turkish-backed forces in northeastern Syria between October and December 2019 were moved out of the country and charged over links to pro-Kurdish groups viewed as "terrorists" by Ankara.

According to Human Rights Watch, the men, who were captured in the border area of Ras al-Ain, have been charged with "undermining the unity and territorial integrity of the state, membership of a terrorist organisation, and murder".

“Turkish authorities, as an occupying power, are required to respect people’s rights under the law of occupation in northeastern Syria, including the prohibition on arbitrary detention and on the transfer of people to their territory,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“Instead, they are violating their obligations by arresting these Syrian men and carting them off to Turkey to face the most dubious and vaguest of charges connected to alleged activity in Syria.”

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


According to HRW, in October 2020 a court in Turkey sentenced five of the 63 Syrians to life in prison without parole.

“My son was sentenced for 36 years,” the father of one of them told the New York-based rights group.

“They sent the sentence to [the local appeal court in] Gaziantep to reduce it, but it came back the same. The judge’s sentence was a black sentence … with such sentences, there’s no mercy.”

Syria: Activist's arrest by Turkish-backed forces raises concerns over freedoms
Read More »

Although the organisation said it could only confirm 63 transfers from Syria, it said there was evidence available that more than 200 other Syrians had been transferred in this way.

Ras al-Ain was captured by Turkey and its Syrian allies during an October 2019 offensive, which saw them seize control of a 120km strip of land from groups linked to the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia.

Turkey accuses the YPG of being an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), an armed group that has fought a guerilla war with the Turkish state since 1984.

There have been repeated accusations of human rights violations carried out by Turkish-backed forces in areas taken from the YPG.

Last year, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned of growing violence and criminality in northern Syria.

There have been reports of increased killings, kidnappings and seizures of land and properties.

Among those arrested recently was Hayyan Ibrahim Hababa, a media activist and father of three, who was picked up in the city of Azaz on 21 January by Turkish-backed security officials.

Though he was released on Saturday, his family said he was subjected to abuse while in detention.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.