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Hammarberg’s Report Published: “Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Turkey”

Submitted by on Friday, 2 October 2009.    1,763 views No Comment
Hammarberg’s Report Published: “Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Turkey”

As we previously reported, Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, and his delegation visited Turkey from 28 June to 3 July 2009. In the course of this visit the Commissioner held discussions on certain human rights issues, including the situation of asylum seekers and refugees, with national and local authorities, international and non-governmental organizations and visited relevant institutions including places of detention.

After the working trip, on October 1, 2009, Thomas Hammaerbeg published a report about “Human Rights of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Turkey”.

The report focuses on the following major issues:

1. Overview of the situation of asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey in the context of European and international law
2. Protection of asylum seekers and refugees by the current legal framework
3. Cooperation with UNHCR
4. Reception and living conditions of registered temporary non-European asylum seekers
5. Administrative detention
6. Issues relating to forced returns of asylum seekers and refugees
7. Particularly vulnerable groups
8. Involvement of civil society in refugee protection and support

The report has informations about the situation of Chechen asylum seekers in Turkey:

“In Turkey, asylum seekers from Europe fall under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Although this group is comparatively small, Turkey in the past was faced with refugees from Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and in particular Chechnya. The Commissioner has been informed that so far there have been 43 persons recognized as refugees under the Convention. In fact, it appears to be the practice of the authorities to simply tolerate their stay in Turkey giving them a “guest” status which is somewhat unclear. As a result, they do not enjoy international refugee protection and have no access to UNHCR procedures, excluding them from resettlement in third countries. Their “guest status” can be revoked any time.

The Commissioner is particularly concerned about a group of approximately 1 500 Chechens who arrived in Turkey from 1999 until 2005 and have received such “guest status”. Until today they are living under very precarious circumstances, many of them in the Istanbul area. Reportedly, several hundreds still live on sites, unofficially referred to as “camps” with non-regular supply of water, electricity and gas due to insufficient means to pay for such services. The majority of them seems to have no access to legal employment, possibly for lack of documents.

Fenerbahce Chechen Refugee CampThe Commissioner visited one camp at the shore of Fenerbahce, Istanbul where about 170 people, among them 80 children, lived at the time of his visit in very basic small cabins formerly used by workers of the Turkish State Railways as a summer resort. He learned that since 2006 there is electricity and water supply albeit the electricity breaking down in times of high demand, especially when used for heating during the winter when the rooms become damp due to lack of isolation. He was informed about rumours that the camp should be closed, their inhabitants not knowing where to turn to in that event.

At the time of the visit their situation was particularly vulnerable as their visa had expired and no prolongation had been given. The Commissioner is very concerned about the fact that under Turkish law, staying without a valid visa constitutes a criminal offence and may result in detention. Lack of documents was a particular problem for most of the people the Commissioner talked to. Some of them had been obliged to hand their passport to the Turkish authorities upon arrival ten years ago. Children born in the camp did not have a birth certificate as Turkish authorities refuse to issue one. In this regard, the Commissioner recalls that there are international standards to prevent and reduce statelessness. The Commissioner was relieved to learn that meanwhile, with the help of UNHCR, an unofficial arrangement was found to allow the children to attend school. However, it was reported that they do not receive official acknowledgment of their attendance as diplomas are not issued due to lack of documentation attesting to their identity and/or former education.

The Commissioner recommends that urgent measures be taken to find a humanitarian solution for this group of people having come to Turkey many years ago from a conflict area, most of them having no hope to return. He wishes to underline that he regards help for this group exclusively as a humanitarian issue and trusts that the Turkish authorities will receive international support in finding a durable solution ensuring that families can stay together and provide a future for their children.

Chechen refugee childrenThe Commissioner recommends that special attention be paid to the situation of foreign nationals coming from conflict areas, potentially in need of international protection. He calls upon the Turkish authorities to find a stable solution for the group of Chechens and other forcibly displaced persons from Europe in a similar situation, allowing either for their speedy resettlement in third countries or for a rapid integration into Turkish society so long as a safe return is no option. In this regard the Commissioner wishes to underline the importance of dialogue with the people concerned and their representatives and suggests inviting UNHCR to be more involved. The Commissioner stresses that in no event children of such groups must be victims of bureaucratic obstacles and thus calls upon the Turkish authorities to ensure that such children may visit primary and secondary schools in a non-discriminatory manner which includes the possibility of obtaining certificates of school attendance and diplomas. The Commissioner urges the authorities to look carefully into the issue of de facto or de iure statelessness of displaced persons. In this regard, he recommends the prompt accession of Turkey to the 1997 European Convention on Nationality.”

There was something very tragicomic in the report which was related in Chechen asylum seekers. Because Turkish authorities’ comments are appended to the report, also, and according to Turkish authorities,  they gave a special attention to the situation of Chechens especially residing at the Facilities of Turkish State Railways in Fenerbahce/Istanbul. “The Ministry of the Interior has mandated two Inspectors to prepare a comprehensive report on the conditions at these facilities. The work is underway.” Which kind of country couldn’t know the situation of an asylum seekers group who were placed to so-called unofficial refugee camps by Turkish authorities and they mandate an inspector on this issue?

33 pages, original-full report of Hammarberg is available HERE.

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