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Turkey fails to protect asylum-seekers

Somali refugee children carrying water in Sarayköy, a suburb of Ankara, Turkey 2006.

Somali refugee children carrying water in Sarayköy, a suburb of Ankara, Turkey 2006.


22 April 2009

Asylum-seekers arriving at Turkey's borders are putting their lives at risk because of the Turkish authorities' failure to protect them, according to a new Amnesty International report.

Stranded: Refugees in Turkey denied protection, which was published on Wednesday, focuses on the barriers people, for the most part fleeing persecution in their own countries, are facing in Turkey from the moment they reach Turkish territory.

Cases highlighted in the report demonstrate the government's disregard for international law in its persistence in forcibly returning people to countries where they are at risk of serious human rights abuses.

Asylum-seekers are often detained for extended periods in poor conditions, with insufficient food and without a clear justification for the detention. They may be expelled without any adequate legal procedure, returning them to countries where their lives may be at risk.

They also face severe restrictions in gaining access to health care, adequate housing and work in violation of Turkey’s obligations under international law.

"The risks people trying to reach Turkey are prepared to take show their desperation. However, the country maintains double standards and refuses to recognize them as refugees," said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International's expert on Turkey.

Turkey is the only state and signatory to the Refugee Convention that, in effect, does not recognize nationals of countries outside the Council of Europe as refugees. As a result, an increasing number of people in need of international protection are denied it.

In Turkey, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, undertakes the task of determining refugee status and facilitates the resettlement of some of those recognized as refugees in third countries.

According to official data, in 2006 the UNHCR received 4,550 new asylum applications from non-European countries. The number rose to 12,980 in 2008. Most of them arrived from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. Many thousands more may be remaining in Turkey irregularly, although there are no reliable figures available.

Amnesty International was informed in April 2008 of an Iraqi family under arrest in southern Turkey after fleeing Baghdad. Police officers refused to admit that the family was in detention and denied them the opportunity to apply for asylum despite a request being made by the UNHCR on their behalf. The family was forcibly returned to Iraq despite fears for their lives.

"The Turkish authorities violate the rights of asylum-seekers on a regular basis from the moment they attempt to enter the country. The violations continue while their asylum claims are under way and after they are granted refugee status," said Andrew Gardner.

An Afghan national told Amnesty International about his treatment in police detention in the west of Turkey: "If we didn’t give money then they beat us. They used our money to send us back to Afghanistan."

Four people drowned in April 2008 after a group of 18 people were forced to swim across the River Tigris dividing Turkey and Iraq after Iraqi authorities refused to accept them back into their territory.

Twenty four Uzbek refugees, 15 of them children, were forced into Iranian territory by Turkish security officials in September 2008. During the deportation, members of the group were allegedly beaten and women and girls threatened with rape.

The refugees were held hostage in Iran by an unnamed group that threatened to kill them. They were released after paying a ransom of $5,000 and returned to Turkey irregularly. The refugees were once again deported to Iran in October. According to information from human rights activists, the refugees were living high in the mountains close to the border after the Iranian authorities had refused them entry. Families are unable to feed their children.

Amnesty International has called on the Turkish authorities to legislate for and implement a fair domestic asylum procedure and to fully respect the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees. The organization said that this should ensure that all persons in need of international protection are recognized and provided with such protection.

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