Thousands of Syrian refugees in Turkey live in fear, alleging that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is using spies and dirty tricks to repatriate critics and army deserters.
Ever since the embattled Assad sent in tanks and troops to frontier Syrian villages six months ago to quash an uprising against his rule, tens of thousands have fled across the border to Turkey and are living rough.
Tensions sparked by the influx have heightened, with some refugees alleging that Assad’s informers have tentacles in the Turkish government and the local administration, and are using these links to force the return of critics.
Mehmet Neci Yunso is a case in point. The 42-year-old carpenter fled his northwestern village and barely missed being extradited about 10 days ago after being accused of smuggling and detained for 10 hours.
“We have no problems with the Turkish government and we have no doubts about them, but we are sure that some people [in the local administration] have contacts with the Syrian state,” he said, speaking in the refugee camp of Yayladag.
He cites the case of an army deserter, Colonel Hussein Harmush, who in June became the first Syrian military officer to publicly declare his opposition to the deadly crackdown on protesters while speaking to reporters in the Turkish village of Guvecci.
Months later, his “confessions” were aired on Syrian national television after his return home in unclear circumstances.
Many refugees are convinced that he was kidnapped by Syrian agents from the exit point of a refugee camp in Altinozu.
“The danger is Assad’s network, its links with mafia groups and its spies. We are scared of being abducted by these people here,” said Hussein Misri, an Arabic teacher from Jisr al-Shughur in northwestern Syria.
There is similar outrage among refugees over the recent deportation of two men, who Turkish authorities allege had entered the country to find work and not because they faced persecution.
The pair were sent to a police post in southern Reyhanli on Saturday to be registered, said Isam Mahmut, a brother to one man and a cousin of the other. On Sunday, news filtered through that they had been sent home.
“They said they had fled Syria for fear of being killed. But in the chargesheet, it was written that they came here to seek work. These are lies and whoever is saying that is lying. My brother has been living in the mountains for three months,” Mahmut said.
Hassan Al-Marie, a member of the Supreme Council of the Syrian Revolution — an opposition group — said the move was serious, but stressed that it was not a deliberate act by Turkish authorities, but a “problem of individuals.”
“One of the two men was in the Syrian army ... by sending them back to Syria, you are condemning them to torture or even death,” he said.