Danish NGO puzzled by Turkish decision to expel staff

AP News
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Posted: Mar 31, 2017 5:48 AM

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A Danish organization working in Turkey with Syrian refugees said Friday it had not received an official explanation of the expulsion of five of the organization's employees while five others — all Syrians — are being detained by Turkish authorities.

"It is frustrating not to have gotten an explanation as to why we have been forced to stop at a time when our presence there is highly needed," said Birgitte Qvist-Soerensen, secretary-general of Copenhagen-based NGO Danchurchaid.

Qvist-Soerensen told The Associated Press a Dane, two Britons and an Irish national arrived in London late Thursday, while the fifth person, a Jordanian, had returned to Amman. One of the British nationals holds a dual French citizenship.

Qvist-Soerensen said she fears the five Syrians may be deported to Syria.

All 10 had residence permits in Turkey but had not yet received working permits, "something we asked for in 2014 when we arrived there," she said.

She dismissed a Turkish media description of them as "agents for foreign powers."

"We provide life-saving relief for some of the thousands of people who have stayed inside Syria and who are living under dreadful conditions," Qvist-Soerensen said.

Danchurchaid was trying through a lawyer in the southern Turkish town of Gaziantep where the group worked to get an explanation from Turkish authorities, Qvist-Soerensen said . A Turkish official could not immediately confirm the relief workers' detentions or deportations.

Turkey is home to some 3 million refugees, mostly Syrians. It is also a main point for the delivery of aid to Syria.

Earlier this month, the Turkish government revoked the registration of U.S-based aid group Mercy Corps and forced it to cease operation that provided assistance to conflict-stricken Syrians from Turkey. The group said it delivered food and other supplies including clothes and blankets to between 350,000 and 500,000 Syrians across the border in Syria each month. Additionally, it provided emergency assistance to some 100,000 Syrians and Turkish citizens inside Turkey last year.

Danchurch is an independent aid organization with roots in Denmark's state Lutheran church.

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Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.