Thursday, February 23, 2012

Turkey Maintains Secret Camp For Rowdy Syrian Refugees

[Syrian] refugees who cause problems in camps [in Turkey] are sent to Kuyubasi Camp, which is officially not in service. They are then sent on to Syria at their own request. In one month, about 150 Syrians have left Turkey from this camp, which does not officially exist. Six camps have been opened in Hatay province for Syrian refugees. Kuyubasi Camp, which is not mentioned in official documents and is kept secret, is not among these six. It is a sort of “exile” for those who cause disruptions in other camps. It is about one kilometer from the [Turkish-Syrian] border.

According to information provided by an official working at Kuyubasi, Syrian refugees who start fights and disturb the peace in camps are brought to the camp. Since it is against the law to forcefully deport anyone, these refugees are expected to sign waivers and request in writing to be sent back to Syria.
Turkish officials call the camp ‘’Australia,’’ an allusion to [its past as a British prison colony]. Those brought to the camp usually stay for a few days before requesting to be sent back [to Syria]. There are few women among them.
The official we spoke with says coercion is not used, but since Kuyubasi does not have the facilities of other camps, refugees do not want to stay long. The mayor of nearby Karbeyaz Township, Halil Ozdemir, said he knows that this camp is used to house offenders.
We became aware of the camp by coincidence, but officials in Hatay didn’t want to talk about it. They even refused to acknowledge the existence of the camp. That is when we decided to go and see it for ourselves.
Although we didn’t think we would be allowed in, when we said we were curious, we were let in and permitted to see some of it.  The area refugees stay in is separated by a fence. We only saw the area where officials stay. The refugee section had a mixture of makeshift Red Crescent tents. Security is provided by uniformed gendarmerie. Officials said that at the time there were 20 people at the camp. We were able to see a few of them behind the fence.
According to Selim Matkap, head of the Hatay Chamber of Doctors, doctors are not permitted to enter Kuyubasi Camp. Matkap said: “When someone becomes ill, the camp official phones [medical emergency] 112.  No doctor is allowed to enter. All of our medical colleagues understand that the camp operates in secrecy.”
According to Volkan Gorendag, the Refugee Rights Coordinator of Amnesty International’s Turkey office, downgrading the camp conditions as a means of pressuring refugees [into agreeing] to be sent back,  as well as forced deportation, are against international law. “We don’t even want to think of such a practice,” [he said].
Gorendag said that should any Syrian become involved in a crime in a refugee camp, it is a matter for state prosecutors. “Apart from serious crimes, if there are arguments that disrupt the harmony of the camp, the governor of Hatay can relocate the Syrians to other camps. But to classify refugees as ‘criminals’ and set up a ‘criminals' camp’ cannot be permitted. We are waiting for officials to investigate these claims,” Gorendag added.
Foreign Ministry officials said that no one is forcefully deported [from Turkey]. Those who violate Turkish laws are detained according to the rules of international law, and put on trial. The local courts have full jurisdiction over such cases. Those refugees removed from their original camp after committing a crime have the right to go back to their country instead of being tried in a Turkish court. In such cases, they sign waivers stating that they leave on their own cognizance. They are then deported. There is a different procedure for those who are linked to the Syrian security services.
Ministry officials say they know there are Syrian soldiers among the refugees, but that [all] of the camps, including those hosting soldiers, are under the full supervision and control of the Turkish military.

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