After earthquakes destroyed her residence, Raghad fled Antakya in southern Turkey, a metropolis she had known as residence for the previous three years.

The 26-year-old Syrian refugee lived there along with her 4 youthful sisters, mom and four-year-old nephew after her father disappeared throughout the Syrian civil conflict. When the quakes hit on February 6, she took it upon herself to ship her household to security.

Carrying nothing however her pyjamas, Raghad guided her household by way of the chilly evening till she persuaded a bus driver to take 2,000 lira ($106) to drive them to Istanbul, the one place the place they’ve prolonged household.

After a 17-hour journey on snow-covered, broken roads, they’re now residing in lodging offered by a volunteer in Istanbul, and are being supported by Raghad’s uncle and Syrian fiancé – each of whom dwell in Istanbul. However on account of a authorities directive issued instantly after the earthquakes, Raghad faces the potential of being compelled to return to Antakya inside two months.

“We’ve got nowhere to go,” Raghad informed Al Jazeera. “Our residence’s been levelled to the bottom. If we return, we’ll be on the streets or in a tent.”

Raghad mentioned the whole lot she and her household owned was misplaced in a matter of seconds throughout the quakes. Gone was the inheritance cash from her grandfather, her schooling certificates, passport and what she thought-about her most precious possession – the white costume she deliberate to put on for her marriage ceremony in March.

“I’d solely acquired it the evening earlier than,” she mentioned. “I noticed it hanging on the closet door because the partitions began to crumble round us.”

A member of a Syrian family
A Syrian man who fled to Turkey after his home was destroyed throughout the conflict in Syria misplaced his residence once more in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, within the earthquakes that struck the border area this month [File: Suhaib Salem/Reuters]

Momentary coverage

In response to authorities estimates, greater than 1.7 million Syrian refugees lived within the 10 southern Turkish provinces devastated by this month’s earthquakes.

Like Raghad’s household, most depend on momentary or worldwide safety standing, which confines them to the provinces the place they’re registered residents. Till the earthquakes hit, they may not journey to different provinces with out authorisation.

The day after the earthquakes, Turkish authorities issued a directive permitting refugees within the 10 provinces to journey to different cities or provinces, besides Istanbul, for as much as 90 days if they may safe their very own lodging.

However after many refugees fled to Istanbul within the first days following the quakes, the Directorate Normal of Migration Administration revised its determination on a case-by-case foundation, permitting households who had already arrived within the metropolis to remain for as much as 60 days.

On February 13, the Ministry of Inside issued a second directive, giving folks underneath worldwide or momentary safety residing in any of the 5 worst-hit provinces – Kahramanmaras, Hatay, Gaziantep, Adiyaman and Malatya – a 60-day exemption to journey to different provinces with out searching for permission.

Upon arriving in one other province, they’re anticipated to use on the Directorate Normal of Migration Administration for a 60-day allow to remain there. These within the different 5 quake-stricken provinces – Adana, Osmaniye, Sanliurfa, Kilis and Diyarbakir – should search a journey allow earlier than leaving.

It stays to be seen if the second directive overrides the primary, and a number of makes an attempt by Al Jazeera to hunt clarification from authorities went unanswered.

Paal Nesse, secretary common of the Norwegian Organisation of Asylum Seekers, mentioned that when an individual has been granted refugee standing in a European nation, “they need to be capable of transfer freely inside that nation.”

“Turkey has some shortcomings of their authorized methods as in comparison with different international locations which have ratified the refugee conference with out reservation,” he mentioned. “Turkey’s interpretation of the refugee conference has positioned limits primarily based on geography – solely Europeans in Turkey have the total proper to hunt asylum, however Turkey made an exception for Syrians, permitting them to change into refugees as soon as they’re registered.”

He added that Turkey’s determination on the motion restrictions was probably associated to the financial difficulties going through the nation. “It could have been a method to restrict the variety of refugees drifting to Istanbul and different huge cities,” he mentioned.

Syrians gather at a shelter in Antakya, southeastern Turkey, Friday, Feb. 10, 2023. The shelter, operated by Molham, a team of Syrian volunteers, was set up soon after the earthquake struck. It has offered temporary shelter, hot meals, and transportation out of the devastated city to hundreds of the thousands of Syrian refugees who fled years ago after war broke out in their hometown and now find themselves once again displaced and homeless. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Syrian earthquake survivors collect at a shelter in Antakya in southern Turkey [File: Hussein Malla/AP]


Syrian activists and human rights organisations have denounced the federal government directives as “inhumane” and “unrealistic”, saying refugee households can be unable to rebuild their lives in southern Turkey in such a short while.

“This 60- to 90-day respite shouldn’t be sensible as a result of no long-term options might be in place by then,” mentioned Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director at Human Rights Watch.

“These [decisions] are momentary stopgaps to an enormous inside displacement,” she mentioned. “There’s at the moment no secure housing, an absence of infrastructure and significantly diminished employment within the quake-stricken provinces.”

Sinclair-Webb known as on the Turkish authorities to plot a “extra sustainable, long-term coverage that respects folks’s rights to ascertain secure residing conditions with entry to schooling and employment to maintain and rebuild their lives”.

Taha Elgazi, a Syrian activist engaged on refugee rights in Turkey, known as the choice “arbitrary and inhumane”.

“What are Syrian refugees going to return to? Piles of rubble?” he requested.

‘Facilitation’ not restriction

In response to Enas Al-Najjar, a Syrian member and director of communications for the Syrian-Turkish Joint Committee, the directives have been an preliminary response taken to assist Syrian refugees affected by the quakes transfer and journey.

The committee, which was created in 2019 on behalf of the Turkish inside ministry and the opposition Syrian Nationwide Coalition, consists of the Turkish deputy inside minister and head of the Directorate Normal of Migration Administration, Al-Najjar mentioned.

“These criticisms are a shock to me,” she mentioned. “We [members of the committee] requested this allow. The thought was to make sure that nobody is left on the streets – a way to facilitate folks’s journey to areas the place they’d households.”

She mentioned they known as for the choice after Syrian refugees reached out to the committee on the primary evening of the earthquakes, complaining that they have been unable to go away by way of airports and bus stations.

She added that the choices have been solely “an preliminary plan” to reply to an amazing state of affairs and an enormous demand for lodging after the quakes.

“We have been looking for fast options,” Al-Najjar mentioned. “We’re but to see what’s going to occur after three months, particularly that reconstruction will take a yr. These directives is likely to be renewed.”

Along with calling for an extension to the 60- or 90-day exemption interval to at the least a yr, Elgazi additionally raised the alarm on a government-imposed quota limiting overseas residence permits to 25 % of the inhabitants in particular neighbourhoods.

When this legislation rolled out in July, the inside ministry successfully shut off at the least 1,200 neighbourhoods throughout the nation to foreigners wanting to maneuver there, Elgazi mentioned.

“This [the quota] is the most important instant problem going through Syrian refugees displaced from southern Turkey,” Elgazi mentioned.

“In the event that they find yourself in neighbourhoods closed off to foreigners as a result of their households are there, they gained’t be capable of get residency permits,” he mentioned. “It will, in flip, reduce off their entry to social and public companies, together with schooling and healthcare.”

Al-Najjar mentioned the quota has been placed on momentary maintain, permitting folks affected by the quakes to dwell wherever they’ve household.

“Nevertheless, they will’t switch their residency to these neighbourhoods, so the fear is after three months, what’s going to they do,” she informed Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera phoned and emailed inquiries to officers on the Directorate Normal of Migration Administration and the Ministry of Inside for remark however has not acquired a response.

Syrians heat up by a fireplace at a makeshift shelter for individuals who have been left homeless close to the rebel-held city of Jandaris [Rami al Sayed/AFP)

Growing anti-Syrian sentiment

Ankara says it has spent more than $40bn to accommodate Syrian refugees who have crossed the border into Turkey since the civil war erupted in their country in 2011. Most Turkish citizens welcomed Syrian refugees into their country as Turkey became the host of the world’s largest refugee population.

But a financial crisis and economic decline in recent years have fuelled anger and public discontent over the nearly four million Syrian refugees who are seen by some Turkish citizens as competition for jobs.

Since claims spread that Syrians had robbed and looted in the aftermath of the earthquakes, resentment towards Syrians in Turkey has grown over the past week. Anti-Syrian slogans have resurfaced on Turkish social media, and far-right politicians have resumed calling for their deportation.

With anti-immigrant sentiment piling pressure on the Turkish government ahead of May’s general election, Elgazi expects the situation to get even more challenging for Syrian refugees over the next six months.

“The situation that has unfolded since the earthquake and rising anti-Syrian rhetoric will only push refugee families to return to Syria or migrate to Europe,” he warned. Hundreds of Syrian families who survived the earthquakes have already crossed the border back into war-torn Syria.

For Raghad, making plans for her family seems impossible. Even though they have experienced upheaval dozens of times due to the war in Syria, this time feels the hardest.

“Every time we’ve been displaced before, I still had a sense of what to expect,” she told Al Jazeera. “But this time, I have no idea what’s next.”

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