Deadline elapses for unregistered Syrians to leave Istanbul

Refugees not registered but living in largest Turkish city face prospect of being expelled.

    Turkish authorities recently detained thousands of unregistered refugees in Istanbul, including Syrians [File: Umut Uras/Al Jazeera]
    Turkish authorities recently detained thousands of unregistered refugees in Istanbul, including Syrians [File: Umut Uras/Al Jazeera]

    Authorities in Istanbul are expected to soon start deporting unregistered Syrian refugees and migrants following the expiration of a deadline for them to leave Turkey's largest city.

    The Syrians had until Tuesday to return to the provinces where they were first registered in.

    In the previous weeks, Turkish authorities detained thousands of unregistered refugees and migrants in Istanbul, including Syrians.

    Al Jazeera's Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from the Istanbul neighbourhood of Fatih where many Syrians live, said that more than one million Syrians are estimated to live in the metropolis but official data showed only 547,479 were registered in the city.

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    "We have been told by the Syrians living in Fatih that most of the unregistered Syrians have already left Istanbul," she said, adding that their businesses have been affected by the decision of the authorities.

    Rami, a Syrian shop owner, told Al Jazeera: "It harms the businesses here, not only for Syrians, but for Turks, as well. They employed Syrians and most of them are now gone. Some Syrians shut down their businesses because they had to leave."

    Others said that refugees were caught unprepared by the deadline set by the Istanbul governor's office last month.

    "It is hard for someone who lived for five years in a city to leave in a couple of weeks or a month," Maher, another Syrian living in the neighbourhood, told Al Jazeera.

    'Deadline might be extended'

    Mehdi Davut, the head of the Syrian Associations Platform, an umbrella group, told dpa news agency that Istanbul is expected to start relocating unregistered Syrian refugees by Saturday.

    Davut said those registered in other provinces will be provided with transport to move with their belongings.

    Excluded from the order are those families whose children are registered in Istanbul schools, businesspeople and orphans, he said.

    Davut added, however, that the deadline could be extended by three months.

    In either scenario, six centres will be set up in Istanbul for the migration authority to finger-print Syrians not registered anywhere in Turkey.

    More than 3.6 million Syrians escaping violence and civil war are in Turkey. They have been offered "temporary protection," which unlike full refugee status does not does not provide complete legal protection.

    While many refugees remain in the Turkish provinces bordering Syria, many others have moved to Istanbul in search of work. They largely subsist in a shadow economy and form the cheapest labour force in the city.

    The decision over refugees follows the defeat of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development (AK) Party in the Istanbul mayoral elections earlier this year, with some arguing that the large presence of refugees in the city had hurt the ruling party's popularity.

    A survey published last month by Kadir Has University in Istanbul showed growing hostility towards them, rising from 54.5 percent of respondents in 2017 to 67.7 percent in 2019.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies