Turkish top court defends Syrian refugee's right to life in deportation case

Turkish top court defends Syrian refugee's right to life in deportation case
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In a landmark ruling, the Turkish Constitutional Court identified a severe violation of rights in the hasty deportation of Syrian refugee Abdulkerim Hammud, spotlighting an urgent need for a reassessment of repatriation policies

The deportation of a Syrian refugee following his signing of a "voluntary return request form" constituted a violation of his right to life, Turkish Constitutional Court (AYM) ruled on Wednesday, further complicating the debate surrounding repatriation of millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey.

The incident occurred in Sanliurfa, where the refugee, Abdulkerim Hammud, was involved in a brawl. Although no parties filed complaints against each other, Hammud was detained and handed over to the Sanliurfa Provincial Immigration Office. The office decided to deport him, citing "a threat to public order, safety, or health" and had him sign a "voluntary return request form". The document, dated July 18, 2019 and issued in Turkish and Arabic, stated that Hammud was fully informed by the authorities regarding the general and security situation in his home country and confirmed his decision to voluntarily return to the Syrian Arab Republic, thereby ending the protection granted to him by the Republic of Turkey.

Before the court could rule on the lawsuit filed by Hammud against this decision, he was sent to the Hatay Repatriation Center by the Sanliurfa Provincial Immigration Office and deported to Syria through the Cilvegozu Land Border Gate on the same day.

The administrative court later found the deportation order to be unlawful, noting that there were no complaints against the Syrian involved in the brawl and that there was no ongoing terrorism investigation against him. Subsequently, the case was brought to the AYM, which concurred that there was a violation of Hammud's right to life, prohibition of torture, and the right to an effective remedy, awarding him 50,000 Turkish Lira in moral damages.

The AYM pointed out that Hammud was deported before his lawsuit's conclusion, based on a hastily signed voluntary return request form that lacked detailed information on his personal circumstances in Syria and the risks involved. The court criticized the form for not having inputs from Hammud's lawyer or a civil society representative, indicating that he wasn't fully aware of the actual risks noted in the deportation order.

This oversight, against the directive of the Ministry of Interior, showed Hammud couldn't have made a fully informed and voluntary decision to return to Syria. The ruling emphasized the necessity for clear evidence showcasing a conscious and voluntary decision to return, which was missing in this case.

This landmark ruling sets a precedent in examining the intricacies and legalities surrounding the deportation and voluntary return procedures of refugees in Turkey, urging for a more comprehensive and conscious approach to the matter.

Turkey’s Syrian refugee population has emerged as a political flashpoint in the country’s upcoming elections, with leading candidates competing to offer the most aggressive proposal to deport the refugees back to Syria. Although the plans vary in substance, they share a disregard for international law – and Turkey’s existing refugee agreements with the European Union – that threatens to further strain Ankara’s relationships with both Brussels and Washington. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration has forcibly deported hundreds of Syrian refugees since late 2022, while his primary challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has vowed to send all Syrian refugees back to their country of origin in under two years, regardless of circumstances in Syria.