This report was authored by Christian Sinclair and submitted to Kurdistan Commentary for publication.
In a briefing paper published by The Institute of Race Relations in London from October 2010, it was reported that the list of unwanted peoples in Europe continues to grow and ‘the latest group to be targeted is of Syrian Kurds, many of whom were politically active in Syria and forced to flee its notorious security services.’
The year 2010 started with hundreds of asylum seekers, many of whom were Syrian Kurds, landing on the island of Corsica. The year is ending on a sad note with news that a Syrian Kurd committed suicide at an asylum centre in Denmark. Between the two events were hunger strikes, trials, arrests and deportations.
The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) provides protection to any foreign national from being deported to a country where there is ‘a risk that the deportee would face torture, or inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.’ Under article 3 of the ECHR, acts of torture or ill-treatment carried out by the receiving state remain the responsibility of the deporting state.
Though the European Court of Human Rights has strongly reaffirmed the principle that no circumstance, including the threat of terrorism, can justify exposing an individual to the risk of serious human rights mistreatments, many Kurds from Syria continue to be forcibly returned from Europe to Syria. It is unconscionable that these forced deportations still occur. And worse still that Syrian Kurds seem to be targeted specifically for removal from European soil.
Jawad Mella, Chairman of the Western Kurdistan Association in London, has said that, ‘a sentence for a person [who] applied for asylum and had activities for the rights of Kurdish people will be sentenced to unlimited years in prison as a traitor of the Syrian State.’
The law in Syria provides for the prosecution of any person who attempts to seek refuge in another country to escape a penalty in Syria. The government routinely arrests dissidents and former citizens with no known political affiliation who have returned to the country after years or even decades in exile.
The Kurdish minority in Syria, some 10% of the population, faces severe restrictions on cultural and linguistic expression, and systematic and pervasive human rights abuses by the Ba’athist regime. A state of emergency has been in force since 1963, giving the security agencies virtually unlimited authority to arrest suspects and hold them incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge.
Why then do European nations continue to deport Kurds back to Syria, knowing full well that they are at risk of ‘torture, or inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment’?
This report focuses on some of the many cases involving Syrian Kurds in Europe during the past twelve months, examining their plight as asylum seekers, European indifference to the repression they face in Syria, and the reasons why many Kurds leave Syria.
On Friday, 22 January 2010 a boat landed in Bonifacio on the island of Corsica with 123 passengers, most of whom were Kurds from Syria. On board were 57 men, 29 women (five of whom were pregnant), and 38 children who were dropped off on a remote beach by traffickers. They were then taken to five detention centres by French authorities on the mainland: Marseille, Lyon, Rennes, Nîmes and Toulouse.
Migrants told the court in Lyon they fled Syria because, as Kurds, their rights were abused there and that they planned to file for asylum. 35-year-old Jumsid Ali, one of the Kurdish refugees, said, ‘In Syria I was not considered human. I risked my life to come to France and I am sure that if I return to Syria, I will risk death.’
The interior ministry said that as soon as the migrants filed for asylum applications, any local procedure to deport them was overruled. The asylum process can take months.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned the group of Kurdish migrants detained in France, however, that they would be expelled if they were not genuine asylum seekers.
On 26 January judges ruled their detention illegal and ordered they be released so they could apply for asylum. Many then left for the UK, causing an uproar amongst British politicians.
UKIP Euro MP Gerard Batten said: ‘Once again the French are exporting their illegal immigration problem to Britain. If these are illegal immigrants the French should be sending them back to Syria or wherever they came from.’
On 19 August 2010 Norway forcibly deported Abdulkarim Hussein, a Syrian Kurd from Aleppo. Hussein, born in 1959, had applied for asylum in Norway in 2006, but it was denied.
Jan Erik Skretteberg of SOS Rasisme in Norway had said of Hussein’s imminent deportation: ‘Involvement in [our] organisation means that Hussein’s life is in danger if he’s not granted permission to stay in Norway. Hussein is Vice Chairperson in The Association of Syrian Kurds in Norway and has been very active in the struggle for human rights in his native country. The Syrian authorities know this, and this activity is regarded as criminal by the Syrian authorities.’
Abdelkarim Hussein was arrested immediately upon arrival in Damascus by Syrian authorities and later transferred to Al Fayha Prison, run by one of the many branches of Syrian security. Hussein was subjected to beatings, repeated punches to certain parts of the body, pressure to the testicles, harassment, threats and isolation during the time of his detention. Abdulkarim Hussein had been subjected to torture in Syria several times before fleeing to Norway in 2006 and Norwegian authorities knew he was at high risk of repeated torture.
Amnesty International reported that on 02 September 2010 Hussein was released from custody without having been charged. Less than one week after his release, Hussein managed to leave Syria secretly, and fled to Turkey across the border, arriving on 08 September 2010 where he applied to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for international protection.
Several people in Norway are still working actively for granting Abdulkarim Hussein refuge there.
In mid-May 2010 the Kurdish community in Cyprus began what was to become a nearly one-month long protest and hunger strike. 250 Kurdish asylum seekers from Syria, including 65 children, had been living in bright orange and green tents pitched outside the Interior Ministry in Nicosia, the Cypriot capital, for almost four weeks to try and obtain refugee rights and bring attention to the condition of Kurds in Syria.
Their protests ended when Cypriot police and security officers raided their makeshift camp. The protestors were arrested, put into buses and transferred to detention centres.
Police detained 149 of the protestors along with all their belongings. Of the 42 children taken in, 13 were released with their parents and another three were expected to be released. Eighty-two, however, were found to be in Cyprus illegally following a rejection of their asylum applications and were facing certain deportation.
A local Cypriot NGO, KISA, stated in a press release regarding the protestors, ‘The Kurds are now in danger of being deported back to Syria, where for sure at least some of them will end up in Syrian jails.
On 11 June, twenty-seven of the Kurds were forcibly deported back to Syria.
The Kurdish Organisation for Defending Human Rights and Public Freedoms in Syria (DAD), reported in late October that Syrian security services arrested three Kurds who had been deported back to Syria from Cyprus: Rakan Elias Junbuli (deported about five months before his arrest), Mohammed Sheffa Junbuli (deported about a month before his arrest), Hassan Elias Junbuli (deported about a week before his arrest). At the time of DAD’s report, Hassan was being held by Syrian security services, and Mohammed and Rakan were in the Central Prison in al-Hasakah.
In another case, Faiz Adnan Osman and his wife Adla returned voluntarily from Cyprus in early August 2010. They were both arrested upon their arrival in Damascus. Adla Osman was released after a brief period of detention, but Faiz Osman was not released until 18 November. Syrian intelligence services accused them of taking part in demonstrations and sit-ins held in Cyprus. Reports from Gemya Kurda state there is information that Faiz Adnan was subjected to physical torture.
On 04 December 2010, members of the Political Security Directorate in al-Hasakah summoned and arrested Ciwan Yusuf Muhammad (b. 1982). Muhammad was one of the twenty-seven Kurds deported from Cyprus in June 2010, and had to give up his passport at the Damascus airport. He was then interrogated by various intelligence services.
On 14 September 2010 a group of 28 Kurds from Syria began a hunger strike at Christiansborg Slotsplads in front of the Danish Parliament building.
One of the Kurds on hunger strike explained, ‘If you have been in a Syrian jail once, you’ll do everything in the world not to end there again.’
After about three weeks the hunger strike came to an end. Many of those who participated had to be hospitalised. Their health was one of the reasons they called off the strike, but there was another very important factor as well: Roj TV had aired a programme about the hunger strikers after which Syrian security forces began harassing and threatening their families back at home.
The group’s spokesman, Kek Ibo, said that the Danish government and the opposition parties will share responsibility of the fate of those forcibly deported to a dictatorship like Syria.
On Wednesday 22 September 2010, Adnan Ibrahim was deported to Syria after 18 months in Denmark where two-thirds of his family lives. Ibrahim’s sister, Golizar, said that her brother disappeared after two Danish police officers handed him over to the Syrian police at Damascus Airport.
In another case from Denmark, the Danish government deported Abid Mohammed Atto on 15 November 2010 after he was refused asylum. He was born in 1982 and is a stateless Kurd from Derik. He was detained for 20 days before being deported. A group of activists went to the airport to ask the Danish police to stop the deportation, but were unsuccessful.
Abid Mohammed Atto went to Denmark on 15 August 2009 to escape the repressive practices of the Syrian intelligence services, especially as he does not have Syrian nationality. He is currently held in the cellars of the Syrian security branches.
Another Kurdish asylum seeker, 26-year-old Ramazan Hajji Ibrahim, tragically took his own life at the Auderød Asylum Centre in Denmark. Many suspect he was too afraid of what might happen to him if Danish authorities carried out the deportation order against him.
Kurdish societies in Denmark have been in contact with Ramazan’s parents and agreed to arrange a funeral in Copenhagen. The Kurdish organisations there had started to arrange all the formalities for repatriation, however the request was refused by Syrian authorities on the grounds that Ramazan Hajji Ibrahim was not a registered Syrian Arab Citizen; he was a stateless Kurd. His funeral was yesterday, 18 December, at the Kurdish Cultural Association in Copenhagen.
In Switzerland, Kurdish detainee Sarbast Kori began an indefinite hunger strike on 22 November at a prison in Thun to protest Swiss government’s plans to deport him back to Syria. After ten days, Kori was hospitalised in Bern after he lost consciousness. He is also suffering from psychological trauma resulting from the fear of being forcibly returned to Syria.
On 03 April 2010 Anwar Daqouri, a Kurd from Syria seeking asylum, was arrested by German authorities whereupon he was transferred to a deportation prison. The German government said they would deport him within three months. Daqouri had previously been arrested in November 2009.
Another Syrian Kurd, Farouk Al-Issa, was picked up by German police on 21 June 2010 and sent to a deportation prison near Hanover. His deportation date was set for late August. Mr. Farouk Al Issa had taken refuge in 2004 to Germany, but his request for asylum was rejected.
So why are Kurds from Syria leaving for Europe to seek asylum?
Western diplomats, Kurdish political leaders, international organisations, and local journalists have identified several key reasons. They are discrimination, regional instability, and political and economic factors.
The worsening human rights situation coupled with the government’s systematic prevention of economic development in the region leave few prospects for a decent future. This is especially true for the stateless Kurds, who may not have easy access to health care, education and work. Severe drought in the northeastern part of Syria has devastated the economy of the area.
Many Kurds too have strong ties to Kurdish communities in host countries of migrants, which contributes to further migration.
An international organisation says that the Syrian government systematically favours the out flux of Kurds and ordinary Kurds are not prevented from leaving the country unless their departure is perceived as a threat to national security. It is presumed that the authorities encourage emigration of Kurds in order to reduce the Kurdish concentration in the north‐eastern region.
Kurdish political parties generally do not want any Kurd to leave the Kurdish regions in order not to have the demographic composition changed, which has been the government’s aim since 1962.
Many have left the country via a smuggler ring operating out of the Western port city of Lattakia. In order to be able to operate it is highly probable that the smuggler ring pays off the security services, as they are the ones who control all movement of ships in and out of the harbour. The Syrian security services are aware of these networks and in some cases might even be facilitating some of the smuggling.
Sarkozy talks tough about migration. Times of Malta, 27 January 2010.
Schittly, Richard. A Lyon, les Kurdes syriens goûtent à la liberté. Le Progrès, 27 January 2010.
Le combat des réfugiés kurdes débarqués en Corse. Paris Match, 26 January 2010.
Fagge, Nick. Migrants Freed to Head for Britain; French turn blind eye to illegals. The Express, 26 January 2010.
YASA reports, April 2010, May/June 2010
Country of Origin Information Report: the Syrian Arab Republic, Section 31: Exit and Return. UK Border Agency/Home Office, 03 September 2010.
Syria: Syrian Kurd freed after two weeks in custody. Amnesty International (Index Number: MDE 24/024/2010), 05 September 2010.
Accelerated Removals: a study of the human cost of EU deportation policies, 2009-2010, Briefing Paper No. 4. Institute of Race Relations, October 2010.
Press statement: Abdulkarim Hussein arrested upon arrival. Support Kurds in Syria, 22 August 2010.
Abdulkarim Hussein was tortured in Syrian captivity. SOS Rasisme, 22 November 2010.
Shahan, Hassan. Denmark: Young Syrian Kurd Commits Suicide in Asylum Center. ekurd.net, 16 December 2010.
Forcibly deported Kurd from Denmark probably jailed and tortured. Support Kurds in Syria, 02 October 2010.
Human rights issues concerning Kurds in Syria. Danish Immigration Service (DIS) and ACCORD/Austrian Red Cross, May 2010.
Stateless Kurd deported to Syria from Denmark. Rojhelat, 21 November 2010.
Kurds in Cyprus face deportation to Syria. Kurdistan Commentary, 14 June 2010.
الاعتقال التعسفي يطال السيد جوان يوسف محمد Shril-Sy.info, 12 December 2010.
إعتقال مدير موقع كميا كوردا أنور دقوري لإقامته الغير شرعية في ألمانيا Gemya Kurda, 04 April 2010.
European Court of Human Rights: An absolute ban on deportation of foreign citizens to countries where torture or ill-treatment is a genuine risk. International Journal of Constitutional Law, (2010) 8 (2): 311-322.
Al-Hasakah: Political Security arrests deportee. Kurdwatch, 17 December 2010.
Non-political Kurds at risk on return to Syria. Support Kurds in Syria, 13 November 2010.
إضراب مفتوح عن الطعام للمُعتقل سربست كوري في سجن تون بسويسرا PYD Rojava, 26 November 2010.
نقل سربت كوري المضرب عن الطعام في السجون السوسرية الى أحد المشافي في مدينة بيرن PYD Rojava, 05 December 2010.
مجلس عزاء الشاب رمضان حاجي ابراهيم في مقر الجمعية الثقافيّة الكُرديّة في الدانمارك Gemya Kurda, 15 December 2010.