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Mass leak of personal data triggers fear among Syrian refugees in Turkey

Overnight, the personal data of up to three million Syrians living in Turkey was leaked online via the social media account of a 14-year-old, raising fears that the leak could enable further attacks on one of Turkey's most vulnerable populations.

The leak followed a week of violence against Syrians in Turkey, sparked by the alleged sexual abuse of a minor by a Syrian, and reports that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was ready to normalise relations with Syrian leader Bashar Al Assad.

The Turkish Interior Ministry said the account was used to share identity information of Syrians under temporary protection in Turkey – the formal status of over three million Syrians who fled their homeland to escape the war.

“A social media account with the nickname *”Uprising#Turkey”* was seen posting today: 'We will start an uprising in Sultanbeyli between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.,'” the ministry said.

“The investigation revealed that the administrator of the social media account was 14-year-old EP. It was also found that the identity information of Syrians under temporary protection was shared through the same account. The Istanbul Children's Department Directorate has taken the necessary measures against EP,” the statement continued.

The National Viewed images of some of the leaked documents, including copies of passport information, full names, ID numbers and address information.

The exact number of leaked files remains unclear, but according to a Syrian activist in Turkey who monitored the leak, the data released initially included the details of half a million Syrian men and women living in Istanbul, as well as another 400,000 Syrian men and women living in the southeastern city of Gaziantep.

“There are confirmed numbers when the leaks were discovered after they were published in several Telegram channels, and the number of leaked files published has multiplied over time,” the person said.

This is intended to intimidate all Syrians and expose them to various dangers, such as possession of mobile phone numbers and their use for terrorist and fraudulent activities, etc.

Syrian activist in Turkey

Most Syrians in Turkey fled across the border to escape the Syrian government's crackdown on an uprising 13 years ago and fear retaliation as a result of closer ties between Ankara and Damascus.

Turkish law requires foreign nationals, including Syrians, to register their residence in the country. This allows some Syrians to access certain services, such as healthcare, education and small EU-funded cash transfers. Many thousands of Syrians live in the country who are not registered, which prevents them from accessing these services or obtaining a work permit.

It is not clear who exactly is behind the leak, but it has raised fears among Syrians in the country that it is part of an effort by some ultra-nationalist Turks to force Syrians to leave.

“In this way, we want to intimidate all Syrians and expose them to various dangers, such as possessing mobile phone numbers and using them for terrorist and fraudulent activities and the like,” said the Syrian activist.

“They will either feel they have no choice but to return to Syria or find illegal routes into the European Union,” he added.

Updated: July 5, 2024, 08:07