ISTANBUL—Under the cover of night, Turkish police officers pushed Ahmed onto a large bus parked in central Istanbul. In the darkness, the Syrian man from Damascus could discern dozens of other handcuffed refugees being crammed into the vehicle. Many of them would not see the Turkish city again.
Ahmed, who asked that his last name not be used to protect his safety, was arrested after police discovered that he was registered with the authorities not in Istanbul, but in a different district. Turkish law obliges Syrian refugees with a temporary protection status to remain in their locale of initial registration or obtain separate permission to travel, and the officers reassured him he would simply be transferred back to the right district.
Instead, as dawn broke, the bus arrived at a detention facility in the Istanbul suburb of Pendik, where Ahmed said he was jostled into a crowded cell with 10 others and no beds, and received only one meal a day, which was always rotten. “The guards told us we Syrians are just as rotten inside,” he told me. “They kept shouting that Turkey will no longer accept us, and that we will all go back to Syria.”
Ahmed would spend more than six weeks in the hidden world of Turkey’s so-called removal centers. His account, as well as those of more than half a dozen other Syrians I spoke to, point to the systemic abuse, the forced deportations, and, in some cases, the death of refugees caught in a recent crackdown here.