Syrian refugee children walk outside their tents in the southeastern city of Kilis, near the Syrian-Turkish border, March 2, 2014. (REUTERS)
Syrians living illegally in Istanbul have until August 20 to leave the city or face expulsion, authorities warned Monday, as hostility mounts towards the millions of refugees in Turkey.
Turkey has 3.5 million Syrian refugees -- more than any other country -- but they are only under "temporary protection" because the government does not offer them formal refugee status.
Under the system, they must stay in the province to which they are assigned, and can only visit other cities with short-term passes.
In a statement published in Turkish and Arabic, the Istanbul governor's office said it would no longer tolerate Syrians who are assigned to other provinces.
"Foreigners of Syrian nationality who are not registered under the system of temporary protection or who do not have a residency permit will be expelled to their designated provinces by the Ministry of the Interior," it said.
Those without any registration papers at all would be sent back to Syria, it added.
But Mahdi Daoud, who heads a coalition of Syrian NGOs in Istanbul, said more than 600 people were already sent back to Syria last week -- even though most had protection cards issued for other Turkish provinces.
"They were forced to sign documents saying they returned voluntarily to Syria," he told AFP.
He said his coalition, the Forum for Syrian Associations, had complained to the Turkish authorities and there had not been any new cases since Saturday.
Security forces have stepped up identity checks in recent days in Istanbul -- at metro and railway stations and in areas with large numbers of Syrians.
There are currently 547,000 Syrians living in the city, according to the governor's office, which said no new registrations were being accepted for refugees.
Daoud said nearly 26,000 Syrians live in Istanbul without a protection card. He was not sure how many had cards from other provinces.
A survey published this month by Kadir Has University in Istanbul showed growing hostility towards Syrian refugees in the city, rising from 54.5 percent of respondents in 2017 to 67.7 percent in 2019.
#SyriansOut became part of the discourse during municipal elections this year -- with many complaining about the number of Arabic signs appearing on shops in Istanbul and elsewhere.