Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Germany Returns Kurds to Uncertain Fate

Deportation to Syria of some failed asylum seekers leads to arrest, rights groups say.
By IWPR
Khaled Kanjo had lived in Europe for years but Germany rejected his appeal for political asylum and sent him back to Syria.



Shortly after his return in September, Kanjo was summoned by the security services and since then his whereabouts are unknown, Syrian and international human rights organisations say.



The case of Kanjo, a 31-year-old Kurd originally from the poor north-east of Syria, is only one of a number in recent months where people deported from Germany have been taken into custody by the Syrian authorities or risk such a fate, local civil rights groups say.



The latest deportations are believed to result from an agreement between Damascus and Berlin signed in July 2008, which allows the German authorities to deport to Syria not only those with Syrian nationality but also those who only have a Syrian residence permit.



Many of the latter are Kurds. In the 1960s, a large number of Kurdish Syrians were stripped of their Syrian nationality and the government at the time regarded them as foreigners.



Until recently, Kurds who had fled to Germany and did not have Syrian identification documents were protected from being sent back even when they were not granted asylum, and their presence in Germany was mostly tolerated, civil right groups say.



Kurds constitute around ten per cent of the Syrian population and are the largest ethnic minority in the country. They have in recent years increasingly been the target of repression by the authorities, according to an extensive report published by New-York-based Human Rights Watch on November 26.



The report called on Damascus to stop “unlawful and unjustified practices of attacking peaceful Kurdish gatherings and detaining Kurdish political and cultural activists”.



Although the agreement between Syria and Germany dates from July 2008, it did not come into effect until the beginning of the year. The accord sparked a wave of protests in Germany with human rights groups asserting that Syrian Kurds faced imprisonment and harassment by the authorities in Syria.



The issue was highlighted when a family of Syrian Yezidi Kurds was deported from Germany to Syria in October.



Yezidis are mostly considered as ethnically Kurdish. They believe in an ancient religion that is not recognised by the Syrian state. They are registered as Muslims in Syria.



The family, a 55-year-old widow, her 22-year-old daughter and her three sons aged between 19 and 21, are believed to have been detained by the Syrian authorities upon their arrival at the airport, according to Kurdish rights groups and German media.



After their asylum claim was rejected, they were granted a temporary permit to stay in Germany until January 2010. Nevertheless, rights groups say they were deported without any stated reasons after living in Germany for nine years.



It is believed that the family was arrested for participating in anti-Syrian protests in Germany.



Mazen Darwish, a Damascus-based civil rights activist, said that any country was entitled to send back refugees who have no right to be there. But he added that, on a human level, returning refugees to countries that do not respect human rights posed a “moral problematic” because of the risks these people face in their home countries.



“It is important to follow up on the cases of the people who were sent back,” he said, adding that western nations should delegate local civil rights groups and international institutions to make sure that deported individuals are not mistreated or imprisoned.



German official sources told IWPR that the German authorities deported people without authorisation to reside in Germany and who refused to leave voluntarily.



They said that if a person expelled was arrested, the German embassy in Damascus could provide assistance depending on specific circumstances, but they would not go into details as publication might be detrimental.



In 2008, 106 persons with Syrian nationality were granted asylum or refugee status, out of 775 who applied, the sources said.



Syrian rights groups fear that the authorities in Germany will deport more Syrian activists in the coming months. One of them is Tarek Rasho, a 32-year-old Kurdish Yezidi activist who is currently held in Germany awaiting deportation, members of his family say.



They are worried he will be detained and tortured in Syria because he took part in protests against the Syrian government in Germany, where he has lived since 1996.



“These procedures are against the most basic human rights principles that clearly prevent the deportation of individuals to countries where their lives or freedom would be endangered,” said a Damascus-based civil rights activist who spoke on condition of anonymity.



Deportations from Germany have been uncommon in the last decade, especially after the case of an expelled Syrian Kurd, Hussein Daoud, who was arrested in Syria in 2000, was widely publicised.



Upon his forced return to Damascus after Germany refused him asylum, Daoud was sentenced to two years in jail in Syria and was stripped of his civil rights for belonging to “a secret organisation”. Daoud was tortured by Syrian security services, local human rights groups say.



Some Syrians, especially Kurds, flee to European countries to escape political persecution or discrimination in Syria, while other simply seek a better life.