Thousands of people were driven into chaos abundant in unpredictability brought about conflict and war, including attacks by ISIS and the like, that broke out in Syria after 2011. The tragedies of these people who fled from death, violence, plunder, rape, hunger and misery both at home and the borders are still fresh in our memories.
Turkey’s “Open Gate” strategy that has been implemented for a long time deserves to be dwelt upon. Yet, this strategy which has been implemented in a limited and discriminatory manner has been far from providing remedies for refugees’ problems on its own and from developing permanent solutions based on social consensus. Millions of Syrians who fled to Turkey due to the war in Syria started living in Turkey under the temporary protection status.
According to the latest statement of the Ministry of Interior, the total number of refugees in Turkey is 4.9 million. Of these, 3 million 634 thousand are within the scope of temporary protection while 337 thousand are under international protection.
There are merely 28 people who are legally under the refugee status because of Turkey’s geographical restriction on the Geneva Convention of 1951. Article 1 § A2 of the Convention, however, defines refugees as: “[O]wing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it […]” Turkey is responsible for recognizing all in Turkey as refugees in line with this definition. We, therefore, use the term refugee in this larger sense.
Turkey became responsible for the “readmission” of refugees, who entered the EU through Turkey via irregular ways or those who subsequently became irregular after entering the EU through Turkey, with the “Readmission Agreement” signed with the EU on 16 December 2013. This agreement was based on the assumption that Turkey was a safe third country. The government had associated the negotiations about the “Readmission Agreement” with its request for “visa liberalization” for Turkish citizens and endeavored to consolidate public support.
The “Readmission Agreement” mainly presents a cooperation framework for the prevention and management of irregular migration movements through Turkey to the EU as regards its objectives on paper. Yet, we had stated our grave concerns about the protection of the rights of migrants and refugees originating from international law, EU standards and Turkey’s domestic legislation since they would be the ones who would be subjected to practices within the framework of this agreement. We had further indicated that we would not condone the agreement’s entry into force without taking effective measures to meet these concerns both for the EU and Turkey. At this point we are saddened to see how pertinent our concerns were.
The EU and other countries in the world have become direct partners of this tragedy of humanity by not accepting refugees into their countries, including the “Readmission Agreement.” The migration and asylum field that is attempted to be managed by the mindset “Let them stay in Turkey, let us offer financial support” continues to create new cases of victimization. Lives are at risk during unsafe sea or land crossings and are lost at the hands of brokers who traffic human beings. They survive in camps in poverty, torture and insults. They become the new targets of racism in cities.
Turkey’s refugee policies have been far from delivering permanent solutions based on social accord and have been short-term as a result of legal regulations that leave refugees in utter precarity and obscurity along with the government’s uncertain political conduct. We have been witnessing for the last couple of weeks that the pressure particularly on Syrian refugees has escalated and their living spaces have been further restricted as a consequence of such policies. It has also been reported that Syrian refugees were deported and some others were forced to sign voluntary return documents without their consent.
Istanbul Governor’s Office issued a statement called “Combatting Irregular Migration” on 22 July 2019 indicating that Syrian refugees not registered to the city of Istanbul (i.e. registered to other cities) were granted time until 20 August 2019 to return to their respective registered cities and those who were identified not to have returned to those cities at the end of the allocated time would be sent to their registered cities in accordance with the order of the Ministry of Interior. This statement confirms the above-mentioned reports. Minister of Interior, Süleyman Soylu, has also stated the following on the matter at hand: “If Turkey does not undertake this state of affairs resolutely, none of the governments in Europe can endure for six months. Let us try if they want.”
The state’s approach instrumentalizing refugees both in its domestic and foreign policies paves the way to the violation of refugees’ rights to life and housing. Moreover, such statements consolidate refugees’ precarity and reveal that their fundamental rights and freedoms are being ignored. The Minister of Interior also said on a TV show that the operations against illegal migration would continue which also signified that refugees were indeed being deported and this process would likely end up in forced deportations. Further, we find it unacceptable that a perception has been created as if the refugees were responsible for the economic dire straits as the Minister of Interior said “He came in from Africa selling watches for 10 liras, we will not allow it.”
Individuals’ right to work to survive cannot be taken away. The necessary measure to be taken is to recognize refugees’ right to work and to create a safe space where they can receive a fair recompense for their labor.
Refugees are not allowed to leave the cities they reside and have to endure numerous restrictions but their problems are yet to be resolved. Bureaucratic red-tape to obtain work permits and the fact that only employers can apply for such permits are accompanied by the fact that refugees have been working for years as unregistered cheap workforce.
Refugees who cannot enjoy this right in practice try to open up working spaces for themselves. They work unregistered and without any security at construction sites, under the counter workshops, agricultural sector and small-scale industry. Their access to education is quite limited as well, they do not have the opportunity for healthy housing, their access to healthcare services is not on par with the level human dignity so requires, and most of them do not even know how to gain access to such limited means. They cannot socialize as they are exposed to racist and discriminatory practices in numerous fields. Young girls are forced to early marriage and become vulnerable to abuse. Child labor proves to be one of the most important problems.
It should be remembered that Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” The right to life and other inalienable rights of all members of the human family have been guaranteed by agreements that Turkey has also signed. The most fundamental protection as regards refugees and asylum seekers is the United Nations Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees that Turkey ratified in 1961.
The prohibition of “Refoulement” prescribed by Article 33 of the Convention is of vital significance: “No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” This principle was defined under Article 4, “Non-Refoulement,” in the Law on Foreigners and International Protection as such: “No one within the scope of this Law shall be returned to a place where he or she may be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment or, where his/her life or freedom would be threatened on account of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political views.”
Refugees should not be returned unless the threat in their countries was proven to be eliminated in line with this principle. In this view, the most fundamental obligation of the Republic of Turkey is to conform to prohibition of refoulement as regards Syrian refugees and refugees of other nationalities who the state regards to fall within the scope of temporary protection which is not as comprehensive as international protection and does not permanently guarantee access to fundamental human rights.
The instrumentalization of refugees in domestic politics and as means of blackmail in the international arena by politicians cannot be accepted. Deportation of and pressure on refugees should be stopped without delay since deportation of Syrian refugees along with those from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and various countries in Africa would lead to rights violations and loss of lives. Refugees’ living spaces and inalienable rights should be protected and rights-based policies for co-existence should be developed. Discriminatory rhetoric and practices that manipulate the society should immediately be dropped and all practices other than refugees’ own consent should promptly be put to an end.
We, hereby, would like to deliver our demands within this context for the attention of the government, the European Union and the United Nations who are parties to the resolution of the problem.
To the attention of the Government
- Turkey should lift its geographical limitation reservation to the 1951 Geneva Convention and enable the equal use of all the defined rights within the convention for all groups;
- The non-refoulement principle should be implemented in conformity with international law;
- The Government should effectively take all necessary measures to prevent the spread of misinformation about refugee groups, particularly Syrians, and the outcomes of such misinformation ;
- Legal regulations that will bring about humane living conditions for refugees, particularly, the right to work should promptly be introduced ;
- Initiatives to support co-existence should immediately be materialized;
- Authorities should stop using refugees and migrants as a political bargaining chip.
To the attention of the European Union
- The “Readmission Agreement” should immediately be suspended;
- Return practices to Turkey should be stopped; All sorts of measures should be taken in order to prevent the utilization of refugees and migrants as bargaining chips and their exploitation for the sake of political interests;
- Cooperation should be established with NGOs working in the migration and asylum fields, direct information and data about developments and problems faced in the field should be collected.
To the attention of the United Nations
- All relevant UN mechanisms, particularly the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, should effectively follow all refoulement cases including voluntary ones;
- All measures should be taken to make Turkey deliver timely and complete information on all refoulement cases;
- Monitoring and reporting of all procedures and practices that fall outside international law should be undertaken and those responsible should be identified.
Human Rights Association – Central Committee for Refugees
 Convention on the Legal Status of Refugees, Article 1 § A2. https://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10
Safeguard the Rights of Refugees in Turkey!
We, the undersigned organizations working in the area of human rights, express our gravest concerns regarding the recent arrests in Istanbul of over 6,000 migrants and refugees, among whom Syrian refugees. We are alarmed by the the reports and testimonies of deportations to Syria,¹ by the declared intentions of the Turkish government to proceed with deportations and its politically motivated threats to the European Union regarding the hosting of refugees.²
We therefore call on the EU and its Member States, in recognition that Turkey is unwilling and unable to provide protection to refugees in line with the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of the Refugees, to end all returns to Turkey as a transit or safe country, suspending the EUTurkey Deal from March 2016 and providing protection on European soil to those fleeing war and persecution.
For the past three years, since the adoption of the EU-Turkey Statement in March 2016, our organizations have been repeatedly stating that the EU-Turkey Deal is undermining human rights and Europe’s fundamental principles.³ The essence of the «deal» is for Turkey to accept back every refugee that reaches the Greek Islands from Turkey, in exchange for liberalization of the visa policy on the part of the EU and 6 billion euro in aid to Turkey to use for ensuring proper reception conditions for refugees.
The European Commission and many EU Member State governments still present the EU-Turkey Deal as a success, measuiring success only by the drop in numbers of people managing to reach Europe via the Agean sea route. At the same time, refugees are forced by mandatory geographical restriction to live under dangerous, inhuman and degrading conditions on the Greek islands, as found by international organizations and human rights monitoring bodies.4
Thus, tens of thousands of refugees live under deplorable conditions while awaiting for Greek authorities’ decision to grant protection, or refuse it, on the ‘safe country’ ground in respect of Turkey.
Currently, hundreds of Syrians have reportedly been deported from Turkey to Syria following the recent government crackdown on unregistered refugees, while the Turkish authorities cannot guarantee effective access to registration of protection applications. Many of the deportees have reportedly been transported to the TurkeySyria border near Idlib. Syrian refugees and migrants of other nationalities have also been detained by the Turkish authorities in view of removal. Public opinion in Turkey towards Syrian refugees has been hardening since Turkey’s recent local elections,5 which featured prominent anti-Syrian rhetoric, and in the context of Turkey’s ongoing economic crisis.
Following the recent announcement of the Turkish Foreign Minister that the EU-Turkey Deal is suspended unilaterally because Turkey has not received the political exchanges promised by the EU and the subsequent denial of the European Commission, which rushed to assure that the Deal is still being applied, our organizations ask the EU and and/or its Member State governments to:
- announce immediately the suspension of the EU-Turkey Deal
- respect the principle of non-refoulement in accordance with international law and stop all returns to Turkey, from Greece or elsewhere, which amount to chainrefoulement
- provide protection on European soil to those fleeing war and persecution
- provide decent reception conditions in accordance with the EU Reception Conditions Directive
- ensure that refugees are not revictimized by being exploited for political goals
We further ask UN bodies, and the UNHCR in particular, to monitor the returns from Turkey of all persons under temporary protection, including those that are described as voluntary.
- EuroMed Rights Network;
- Center for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria
- Greek Refugee Council
- Ligue algérienne pour la défense des droits de l’homme (LADDH)
- Lebanese Center for Human Rights
- Hellenic League for Human Rights
- HIAS Greece
- Group of lawyers for the rights of migrants and refugees (Greece)
- Initiative for the Detainees’ Rights (Greece)
- Greek Helsinki Monitor
- AMERA International
- L’Association Européenne pour la défense des Droits de l’Homme (AEDH)
- Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies
- Human Rights Association (İHD) (Turkey)
- Urnammu for Justice & Human Rights
- KISA – Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism (Cyprus)
- Tamkeen for Legal Aid and Human Rights- Jordan
- Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression
- Cyprus STOP Trafficking
- Symfiliosi ( Cyprus)
- Andalus Institute
- Italian Council for Refugees
- Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Economiques et Sociaux
- l’Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc (ADFM)
- Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) – Greece
- Network for Children’s Rights (Greece)
1 See, for instance «As 1,000 Syrians arrested in Turkey, crackdown fears intensify», Al Jazeera, July 29, 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/1000-syrians-arrested-turkey-crackdown-fearsintensify-190728102316961.html and « Mass Deportation Campaign in Istanbul Against Syrians» Harek Act, https://harekact.bordermonitoring.eu/2019/07/22/harekacts-weekly-digest-22-09-2019/?fbclid=IwAR0NHl0rNzA0H2cWiEkv7-ITWiYi2fS8jpmFEwHWHtsHn16W0AZ-DSZnkS0
2 See « Turkey suspends deal with the EU on migrant réadmission », Euractiv, July 24, 2019, https://www.euractiv.com/section/global-europe/news/turkey-suspends-deal-with-the-eu-on-migrantreadmission/.
3 See among others EU-TURKEY LEADERS’ MEETING -MIGRATION AGENDA: EU, IT’S TIME TO ACT!, March 26, 2018, https://euromedrights.org/publication/eu-turkey-time-to-act/
4 E.g., Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Report of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Dunja Mijatović following her visit to Greece from 25 to 29 June 2018, CommDH(2018)24, 6 November 2018 https://www.unhcr.org/5a7d67c4b?utm_source=PR_COMMS&utm_medium=email&utm_content=U NHCR%20Communication%20Service&utm_campaign=HQ_EN_BriefingNotes_171027
5 See, for example « Anti-refugee sentiments in Turkey at all-time high», InfoMigrants, July 29, 2019, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/18466/anti-refugee-sentiments-in-turkey-at-all-time-high