The Truth and Turmoil of Refugees' Lives in Turkey

 Sunday, May 15, 2016 4:41:04 PM

Author: Kaveh Taheri

Poor citizens escaping from hellacious lives seeking asylum, where they get stuck in limbo. Every minute eight people are

 forced to flee war, persecution or terrorism. Cartoon credit: Soheil Akbarpouran Narani

"So often the world sits idly by, watching ethnic conflicts flare up, as if these were mere entertainment rather than human beings whose lives are being destroyed. Shouldn't the existence of even one single refugee be a cause for alarm throughout the world?" Urkhan Alakbarov

At least 13.5 million Syrians lost their homes and need immediate humanitarian aid; 4.6 million Syrians are refugees, and 6.6 million are displaced within Syria. More than half are children; 400,000 of them having to remain out of school. Most Syrian refugees stay in the Middle East. They are in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt, and about 10 percent of them have fled to Europe. Meanwhile, thousands of Iranians and Afghans apply for asylum grants in Turkey because of systematic destruction in their countries. Unfortunately, as per UNHCR's June 2013 announcement, Afghan refugee asylum applications were halted, so that the applicants can be considered for possible return to their own country. Human rights activists and NGOs in Turkey claims that there is a tacit agreement signed secretly between the Turkish government and the UNHCR in order to stop the Afghan refugee influx both from Iran and Afghanistan. That is why the UNHCR does not send any recognized (except in a few cases) Afghan refugees to foreign consulates or the ICMC office in Turkey. This implementation is in clear violation of basic human rights of the refugees as well as with the all of the human rights and refugee conventions signed by Turkey.

"Over 3.1 million, including Syrian, Iraqi and refugees of other nationalities, have so far been registered in Turkey. In addition, over 850,000 arrivals by sea to Greece from Turkey were recorded in 2015, with over 100,000 new arrivals in the first two months of 2016 alone, the majority being Syrians", according to reports.

Turkish borders hosted over thousands of Syrians inside the camps.

Neither UNHCR, nor international leaders have taken any concrete steps to assist in settling asylum seekers in the Middle East.

Refugees in Turkey are grappling with shortages and dearth of various foodstuffs and sundries, which have made their lives even more difficult. Refugees are deprived of their basic and most obvious human needs in this country, contrary to reports of financial support by both the European Union and the UN annual budget for refugees.

"The European Commission and its Members States are funding the "Refugee Facility for Turkey" which will provide €3 billion for humanitarian and development projects in 2016 and 2017. During a high-level mission to Turkey on 4 March, the Commission announced that a first package of €95 million under the Facility had been contracted, out of which €40 million is for humanitarian assistance."

Indeed the human rights of the refugees first of all are breached by the UNHCR office of Turkey. Refugees and asylum seekers are faced with horrible risks such as the length of processing time of asylum cases, late registration time, interview appointments and refugee acceptance taking too long. At the moment, in case an asylum seeker is rejected, the UNHCR office in Turkey does not allow their authorized private legal representative/lawyer to see their file at the UNHCR office and submit a detailed appeal. The UNHCR office asks the refugees to submit their appeal requests based on a very short and written in standard format rejection letter issued by the office. Surely an asylum seeker can never understand the detailed reasons of his/her asylum claim rejection from this short rejection letter and therefore be able to submit a detailed legal appeal. So all these procedural mistakes and breach of fair trail are directly conducted by the UNHCR office of Turkey. In addition to that there is a long line of those people who are waiting to be assigned to their destination country (Third Country, mostly for Europe, North America and Australia). All of these issues compounded, become problematic in ways that make the nightmare of these refugees and asylum seekers, even more unbearable.

In addition, the asylum seeker lawyer is denied access to the rights of perusing cases rejected by the UNHCR office. The officers evade lending legal asylum seekers lawyers to hear details of refuge cases, according to lawyers based in Turkey. The UNHCR officials just stipulate in a will or legal documents to Helsinki's lawyer.

In the meantime many refugees express frustration and exasperation about the way they are treated by not only immigration officers, but some UNHCR staff in some of Turkey's cities. They say that the officers regularly act inappropriately and rudely, and with total disregard for human dignity.


The first violation of human rights is at the hands of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Office. Questioning refugees' mindset and opinions during the time of registration is a human rights violation. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states that everyone has the right of freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

A lack of a supporting law for asylum seekers, refugees and the lack of recreational and educational facilities for infants, make the life of asylum seekers all the much more difficult. This issue is considered in article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the first paragraph of article 26 of the declaration, explicitly pointing to educational services.

After many years, insurance is provided for asylum seekers. Also lacking is attention and care for sick and elderly people and medical facilities and health care for fatal illnesses such as cancer. In addition, asylum seekers are not entitled to any protection for housing; yet article 25 of the declaration specifically refers to the right of housing. Those who do not hold any passports have no right to possess property and cannot even buy a phone SIM card or internet services. This too is an issue that has been specified in Article 17 of the declaration.

Asylum seekers in Turkey do not have the right to have a job; so they have to take on labor work (what is referred to as Black Jobs) which results in 10 to 15 hour days, without monthly leave, unfair wages and general abuse of worker's rights. In this case, Article 23 of the declaration addresses this issue.

In addition, refugees who entered Turkey illegally, face serious problems. Despite the fact that these refugees have valid i.d.'s and papers (issued by Turkey's Department of Immigration), they are unable to accomplish the most basic administrative tasks such as opening a bank account, receive money via companies such as Western Union, or even sign up for internet subscription. In other words, asylum seekers (who have entered Turkey via illegal borders) are denied services by government agencies and private organizations that Turkish citizens can easily access.

Also, Turkey still has not effectuated any laws, especially in the case of foreigners and asylum seekers, all of which makes for constant confusion in the administration of refugee issues, including criminal and family laws, marriage and divorce registration, and so on. It is worth noting that the (national) identification number system of asylum seekers and refugees is different from that of Turkish citizens which makes the tracking of administrative procedures through the identification number truly problematic.

At some point however, this is not only a problem but a violation of human rights, in and of itself. Given the dearth of legal protection for asylum seekers, often employers are said to sexually abuse the already weary refugee employees. And due to a lack of refugee rights and the illegal nature of their work, there are many instances where employers simply refused to pay the worker. Asylum seekers do not have labor insurance, and the police fine the asylum seeker instead of the employer.

There is no financial assistance either; only after acceptance, very special circumstances, and random favoritism do a few applicants receive a very small amount of monthly financial assistance which unfortunately, does not even cover half of a month's rent.

Having beliefs like Christianity, Baha'is, atheism or communism, are additional concerns for many asylum seekers. The asylum seekers often suffer humiliating treatment at the hands of Turkish Muslims; insults directed at their nationality, creed and faith by some Turkish citizens are some of the other problems for those living in Turkey.

Jobs, physical, psychological and financial insecurity are serious concerns and problems of refugees and asylum seekers; addressed by Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Some of UNHCR's officers create an unsafe atmosphere by asking prejudicial questions, about the refugees' religious convictions.

Other issues that are cause for concern have also cropped up. On several occasions refugee women who were threatened with rape and sexual abuse refused to report the situation or record their complaint for authorities to know about and follow up.

Regarding article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights about the right to move and travel in the country, asylum seekers and refugees can only travel to other cities for the purpose of official work and UN interviews.

Another problem that is placing Iranian refugees in a critical situation is the incorrect translation by UNHCR translators due to a lack of their fluency in Farsi (Persian), causing many of the refugee cases to be denied.

April 14, 2014 a sit-in protest by Iranian refugees took place in front of UNHCR office in Ankara.

 Photo by Persian Deutsche Welle.


Despite all these problems, any reactions in the form of protests, sit-ins and hunger strikes by the refugees, are not only willfully ignored by Turkish officials, but protesters are exiled to cities whose conditions are much less desirable and much crueler on the already depleted individual. This is as article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights underlines the right to peaceful protest.

On April 26th of 2014, Turkish riot police attacked Afghan refugees in a raid during a peaceful sit-in protest front of the UNHCR office in Ankara.

Thus far, sadly, the UN has not effectively taken any action regarding any of these issues; and all this while Turkey is strategically and geopolitically situated to absorb asylum seekers from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Today in the world, human rights becomes a "Trump Card" for a heartless exploitation as sending-out cheap labor at hand to the developed countries. The UNHCR is like a "recruitment agency", not an organization aiding the people who are forced to flee war, persecution or terror. They mostly stop or delay political refugees' cases on vague reasons. The International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) mainly allow non activists while former political prisoners and activists remain on resettlement row (third country) for long times. In addition, the ethnic minorities such as Kurds have major trouble for resettlement because just a few countries accept them for asylum grants and they stay long times in Turkey before going to third countries. Many grass root reports indicate that Kurds wait for years, 20 years f. ex. Meanwhile, activists report that the ICMC expedites the resettlement of apologist reformists by six months.

None of this is being reported in the major international media outlets and the general public is quite unaware of what actually happens to refugees in Turkey. The available information about refugees generally comes from UNHCR reports that does not highlight facts regarding the noteworthy failures in the system.


Read More:

Turkey: Illegal mass returns of Syrian refugees expose fatal flaws in EU-Turkey deal

Turkey 'acting illegally' over Syria refugees deportations 

Amnesty: Turkey illegally sending Syrians back to war zone

EU must watch rights in Turkey despite refugee deal: Schulz

Turkey is no 'safe haven' for refugees " it shoots them at the border

Norway: Refugees' residence permits may be withdrawn


Follow Kaveh Taheri on Twitter: @TaheriKaveh