Twelve Syrian refugees who were sent back to Turkey by plane on 27 April under the Turkey-EU deal have reportedly been detained. They are now housed in an obscure detention centre called Düziçi with no access to lawyers for the last three weeks.
The detainees have warned that other refugees who follow could also face detention, poor living conditions and a mysterious asylum process, The Guardian reports. The EU-Turkey deal indicated that the refugees once sent back could live freely in Turkey.
Turkey has, however, said the detainees would be released soon. A Turkish government official told The Guardian, under the condition of anonymity, "We expect to release them next week once their background checks are completed. Upon their release, they will be able to move into a refugee camp or opt out of the government-sponsored housing system."
A Syrian mother, detained along with her children, who did not want to reveal her identity, said "You can't imagine how bad a situation we are in right now. My children and I are suffering, the food is not edible. I'm forcing my children to eat because I don't have any money to buy anything, but they refuse because there are bugs in it."
They have no access to lawyers or medical care, she said. They would rather prefer to return to war-torn Syria than stay at detention centres in Greece and Turkey, she added.
Another detained refugee in the camp, going by the pseudonym of Lara, said, "We cancelled our asylum claims in Greece to come back to our homes, not to this prison here. They won't allow us to leave. I'm pregnant, I'm not good – what am I doing here? They just say we have to wait. If they told us you must stay here for one month or two months, that would be OK – but we just don't know."
Others who have been in the camp for a longer time, said they doubted if any of them would be released soon. A man detained with his wife and children, who spoke using the pseudonym Abu Hassan, said, "It's all just talk. They are just pressuring us to go back to Syria and die there."
A spokesperson for EU said the deal will give refugees, "high standards of international protection in the first country of asylum, namely Turkey."
Amnesty International's director of Europe John Dalhuisen said, "The automatic detention of the 12 Syrians returned voluntarily to Turkey bodes ill for those whose appeals are currently being heard in Greece. This is not what the European public and Syrian refugees were being sold when EU and Turkish officials promised that their deal would scrupulously respect refugee rights."
He added, "Turkey has to guarantee there's no arbitrary detention, and if it does detain refugees and asylum seekers, they are held in decent conditions. If a group of Syrians who have voluntarily returned is locked up without medical care and lack of access to legal aid, what does that mean for those who are returned against their will?"