Syria: Forcible return to Turkey of Syrian refugees in Cyprus must end

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

On 15 May 2020, the administration of the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) forcibly sent 100 Syrian refugees, including unaccompanied children, to Mersin, Turkey. They have been transferred to Kilis, near the Syrian border, where they are now. Most of the 100 Syrian refugees – 56 – are children, and women and girls are in the majority.

On 24 April 2020, the TRNC had already forcibly sent 75 Syrian refugees, including unaccompanied children, to Mersin, Turkey, from where they have been reportedly moved to a camp in the province of Kahramanmaraş. All 175 Syrian refugees have expressed their intent to apply for asylum and find protection in an EU member state. Syrians forcibly returned to Turkey face a risk of onward refoulement to Syria.

This group of 175 refugees arrived by boat on 20 March and were pushed back to the sea by the coastguard of the republic of Cyprus as the boat was approaching the southern part of the island, which is under the jurisdiction and control of the government of the Republic of Cyprus. Many of these refugees were trying to join their families already settled in the Republic of Cyprus, which is a member of the European Union. The boat went north, capsized and the refugees were rescued by the “Turkish Cypriot administration” which has effective control over the northern part of the island. The refugees were housed in an apartment complex for a 14-day quarantine period due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of the quarantine period, they continued to be detained – this time arbitrarily, in violation of the law of the “Turkish Cypriot administration” which authorises the detention of irregular migrants for eight days extendable only by a court order.

We, the undersigned organisations condemn the push-back of the vessel from Cypriot waters by the government of Cyprus, which amounts to refoulement in violation of the prohibition of non-refoulement set out under the 1951 Geneva Convention and EU law on asylum, and infringes Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights

We, the undersigned organisations also condemn the return of 175 refugees to Turkey and the arbitrary detention of these persons by the “Turkish Cypriot administration”. These acts also violate the 1951 Refugee Convention and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The detention of minors additionally violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in particular Articles 9, 10, 22 and 37 on detention of children, the right to reunification with members of the family and the right of every child to be with both parents. States are obliged to provide appropriate care to unaccompanied children. On April 13, UNICEF said that all governments should impose a moratorium on detaining children and urgently release children where alternatives are possible, due to heightened risks of Covid-19 in detention.


We call on the “Turkish Cypriot administration” and Turkey to:

  1. Respect the principle of non-refoulement and international human rights law, including the European Convention on Human Rights, by stopping the forced return of refugees and asylum seekers to Turkey and/or Syria;

We call on the government of the Republic of Cyprus to:

  1. Abide by EU and international obligations to respect the right to seek asylum and the principle of non-refoulement, and provide assistance to boats in distress at sea by carrying out search and rescue operations;
  2. Cooperate with the UN and the “Turkish Cypriot administration” with a view to allowing the asylum seekers access to territory under control of the government of the Republic of Cyprus to apply for asylum and reunify with their families;
  3. Terminate the suspension of access to asylum by those arriving by sea to the territory of the Republic of Cyprus in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

List of Signatories

  • AEDH  European Association for the defence of Human Rights
  • Amals Healing & Advocacy Center
  • AMERA International
  • ANTIGONE – Information and Documentation Centre on Racism, Ecology, Peace and Non Violence
  • Arab Network for Migrants’ Rights
  • ARDD Arab Renaissance for Democracy & Development
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  • Center for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria
  • CRLDHTComité pour le Respect des Liberté et des Droits de l’Homme en Tunisie
  • Croatian Centre for Peace Studies
  • Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies
  • EuroMed Rights/EuroMedDroits
  • Greek Council for Refugees
  • Help Refugees / Choose Love
  • HRW – Human Rights Watch
  • HumanRights360
  • İnsanHaklarıDerneği / Human Rights Association (IHD)
  • KISA – Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism
  • Ligavoor de Rechten van de Mens / Dutch League for Human Rights
  • LTDH – Ligue Tunisienne des Droits de l’Homme
  • Mobile Info Team
  • Refugee Rights Europe
  • RLS – Refugee Legal Support
  • Tamkeen for Legal Aid and Human Rights

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