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Syria Today – Thousands Lose Citizenship in Turkey?; Journalists in Exile Face Deportation Threats

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Syria Today – Thousands Lose Citizenship in Turkey?; Journalists in Exile Face Deportation Threats

Thousands of Syrian refugees in Turkey fear they could be stripped of their Turkish citizenship amid rumours that the process has already happened to 5,000 Syrians.

Unconfirmed reports stated that lists of those whose citizenship is due to be withdrawn will be released in the coming days or weeks, and will include multiple nationalities, not just Syrians. Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported.

While there has been no official word on the claims, the report has sparked fears among Syrians with Turkish nationality amid a wave of anti-refugee sentiment in Turkey.

After the current Turkish government was formed following elections in mid-2023, a campaign to deport Syrians has been underway with President Tayyip Erdogan pledging to “voluntarily” return one million Syrian refugees to their country.

Syrians represent the largest group of refugees in Turkey and since Erdogan’s re-election, tens of thousands have reportedly been forcibly returned to northern Syria.

A Syrian teacher who had obtained Turkish citizenship spoke anonymously to The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed regarding his fears.

“Why revoke citizenship without any legal basis? If taking away citizenship is so easy, who will ensure that citizenship won’t be withdrawn from all Syrians if the government in Turkey changes, and a party comes in that doesn’t welcome them?” 

However, Turkish lawyer Abdulkadir Fleifel said that “citizenship won’t be revoked after being granted except if the papers are inauthentic or forged, or due to issues related to state security. Otherwise, the holder of citizenship will be held accountable for violations or crimes committed after obtaining citizenship in the same way as any Turkish citizen”.

According to a 2009 ruling, the Turkish government can revoke citizenship if applicants provided false information or documentation in their applications.

Other grounds included working for a foreign country against Turkey’s interests, serving a hostile country during war, doing military service in a foreign country without permission, committing serious crimes, or carrying out acts on behalf of terrorists or funding them.

Ahmed Hassan, a researcher specialized in Turkish affairs told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that since the current government was formed, Minister of Interior Ali Yerlikaya has adopted what he calls “a correctional line” on citizenship and residency permits.

He has launched investigations into citizenship applications and cases where citizenship has been granted, to address instances in which fake documentation was used, or other violations have been committed, says Hassan.

For those informed that their citizenship has been withdrawn, Hassan says they will have a three-month window in which to appoint lawyers to make an application to restore their citizenship.  

Syrian Journalists in Exile Face Deportation Threats Amid Warming Diplomatic Relations

As diplomatic relations between Bashar al-Assad and neighbouring leaders improve, Syrian reporters exiled in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Türkiye face the threat of deportation back to Syria, where they risk imprisonment and even death. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) warn that Syria, ranked 179/180 on the World Press Freedom Index, remains extremely dangerous for journalists and calls for their protection.

Syrian journalists in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Türkiye live in constant fear of deportation. A 31-year-old freelance journalist from Damascus residing in Beirut shared that despite having proper paperwork, he was threatened with deportation by an officer. Many journalists like him, despite fleeing to avoid persecution in Syria, find themselves hiding again in exile to avoid being sent back.

All four countries have implemented measures that justify the deportation of Syrian refugees under the guise of “voluntary return.” No specific provisions protect Syrian journalists with arrest warrants from being caught in these measures. Jonathan Dagher, Head of RSF’s Middle-East desk, emphasized the urgent need for the international community to provide protections and guarantees to Syrian journalists in exile.

Several Syrian reporters in Lebanon have reached out to RSF for urgent support due to fears of deportation amid rising hostilities. One freelance journalist, wanted by Assad’s forces, was detained after visiting the French embassy in Beirut and was given a month to fix his papers or leave the country. In Jordan, Atiya Mohammad Abu Salem, a media student and freelance journalist, was detained for over a month while covering a protest and threatened with deportation to Syria. In Iraq, another journalist fears deportation due to an arrest warrant issued against him and his family since 2019.

Losses mount in Lebanon for Islamic Jihad’s Syrian branch

On Jun. 15, Islamic Jihad’s branch in Syria, The Martyr Ali al-Aswad Brigade, published a statement mourning the death of a fighter killed in southern Lebanon.

“One of the heroes of The Martyr Ali Al-Aswad Brigade – Syrian Square. He [Muhammed Jalbout] ascended on the borders of occupied Palestine in southern Lebanon as part of the al-Aqsa Flood battle while performing his combat duty,” stated Islamic Jihad.

According to longwarjournal.org, the statement does not specify the circumstances surrounding Jalbout’s death, but it does note that he lost his life during the al-Aqsa Flood campaign, which suggests that an Israeli airstrike was responsible for his demise.

Additionally, the Israeli military published a statement saying it struck a Hezbollah operative on Jun. 15 in Aitaroun, southern Lebanon. Also, an unverified video published on X following the strike shows a mangled motorcycle hit by a missile in Aitaroun. While it isn’t definitive, this strike in Aitaroun is likely the event that resulted in the elimination of Jalbout despite the Israeli military saying it was a member of Hezbollah that was targeted.

The killing of Jalbout brings the total death toll of Syrian Islamic Jihad fighters operating in Lebanon to eighteen, according to the latest tally from FDD’s Long War Journal. The Lebanese-based members of Islamic Jihad have also suffered losses in southern Lebanon, with fatalities also reported among fighters from other terrorist groups, including Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic Group, the Amal Movement, and the Syria-based Imam Hossein Brigades.

The elimination of foreign fighters operating in Lebanon marks a notable development in the ongoing conflict in the Lebanon-Israel border region. This trend has gradually unfolded amidst the complex and protracted war.

Syrian Refugee in UK Detained for 25 Days for Rwanda Flights Speaks After Release

The Independent published an interview with Mohammad Al Kharewsh, a 25-year-old Syrian refugee, who endured constant nightmares, anxiety, and despair during his 25 days of detention in Gatwick. 

Scheduled for deportation to Rwanda, Mohammad was among more than 100 asylum seekers detained by the UK Home Office in May. Mohammad, who reunited with his brother in the UK in 2022, found the prospect of separation intimidating.

Detained during a routine immigration visit, Mohammad was confined in a room with another Syrian refugee suffering from mental health issues. He described the overwhelming environment, constant nightmares, and insomnia. Despite available facilities, his anxiety about deportation prevented him from utilizing them. 

Mohammad fled Syria in 2022 to avoid joining Bashar al-Assad’s army or opposition forces. With his wife and child still in Syria, he believes their safety improved with his departure. His younger brother, granted asylum in the UK four years ago, supports Mohammad and another brother who recently arrived.

Detention conditions and the threat of deportation to Rwanda caused significant stress for Mohammad. He received a leaflet describing Rwanda as the “land of a thousand hills” and a generally safe country. However, the UK Supreme Court and UNHCR raised concerns about Rwanda’s safety for asylum seekers.

Mohammad’s asylum claim was deemed inadmissible, but his second brother’s claim remains pending. Mary Atkinson from JCWI, supporting Mohammad, criticized the Rwanda policy for causing immense mental distress and exemplifying a failed deterrence approach.

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