The Situation of Refugees and Migrants in Turkey

The Situation of Refugees and Migrants in Turkey


Turkey hosts one of the world’s largest refugee populations, with over 3.5 million registered Syrian refugees alone (June 2018 figures). 94% of refugees live outside camps in urban and peri-urban areas and 70% are women and children. The other 6% live in 21 camps (the so-called “temporary shelter centers”) spread across 10 provinces (Sanliurfa, Gaziantep, Kilis, Kahramanmaras, Mardin, Hatay, Adana, Adiyaman, Osmaniye, Malatya). The biggest camps in terms of population are Saricam (a container camp in the province of Adana, with over 27,000 people), Akcakale and Suruc (tent camps in the province of Sanliurfa, respectively with almost 24,000 and 23,000 people).

On March 2018 the Turkish government announced that they are working to set up new camps near the Syrian city of Idlib and the areas of the Euphrates Shield Operation. These additional camps should host 170,000 people.

Not all refugees hosted in Turkey are from Syrian: there is an increasing number of people of other nationalities, mostly from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Somalia, among others. However, the Turkish asylum system treats those people differently. Syrian nationals, as well as stateless persons and refugees from Syria are provided with temporary protection (TP) by the Government of Turkey, that is acquired on a prima facie, group-basis. On the other hand, asylum seeker from other countries of origin are expected to apply for an individual international protection status. Those procedures for the determination of their status are not always fair and efficient.

In general, despite new initiatives to improve the situation of refugees, many face insufficient access to livelihoods, housing, health care, and education for their children and there has been reports of forced returns of refugees and asylum-seekers, including to Syria. In addition, hostility from locals has risen recently, with an increase number of incidents reported. During the campaigns for the June 2018 elections, opposition parties threatened refugees with deportation.

Adana, Turkey

Adana, Turkey. Photo by Hulisi Kayacı on Unsplash

The EU-Turkey refugee agreement

On 18th March 2016 Turkey and EU signed a refugee agreement, to limit the mass influx of irregular migrants entering the European Union through Turkey. Wanted by EU, who has actively sought to prevent asylum-seekers and refugees from accessing its territory, the EU-Turkey deal commits Turkey to accept the return of any irregular migrant who is found to have entered the EU through Turkey without having already undergone a formal asylum application process. In exchange for Turkey’s willingness to secure its borders and host irregular migrants, the EU agreed on the 1-to-1 principle: for each Syrian returned to Turkey, a Syrian migrant who had qualified for asylum will be resettled in the EU. In addition, the deal sets a 6 billion euros payment to the Turkish government, to spend in projects (Facility for Refugees in Turkey – FRiT) aiming to improve refugees’ condition, and in particular on humanitarian assistance, education, migration management, health, municipal infrastructure, and socio-economic support projects.

The EU further incentivized Turkey to agree to the deal with a promise of lessening visa restrictions for Turkish citizens.

From the EU point of view, the agreement has been a success, contributed to a significant drop in the number of arrivals on the Greek island. However, the deal has been the target of numerous criticism, in particular that it forced migrants to start using other and potentially more dangerous routes, such as the journey between North Africa and Italy, and that in general the agreement has set a dangerous precedent by putting at risk the very principle of the right to seek refuge. In addition, long asylum procedures and a huge backlog have stranded thousands of asylum seekers on Greek islands, double the capacity, in squalid conditions.

Balat Mahallesi, Turkey

Balat Mahallesi, Turkey. Photo by Ali Arif Soydaş on Unsplash

The Turkish asylum system

As mentioned above, the Turkish asylum system has a dual structure. Syrian nationals, as well as stateless persons and refugees from Syria are provided with “Temporary Protection” (TP) by the Government of Turkey. The Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) is the responsible governmental authority for the registration and status decisions within the scope of the temporary protection regime. The TP grants beneficiaries right to legal stay as well as some level of access to basic rights and services and they are under normal circumstances not sent back to Syria unless they themselves request to do so.

On the other hand, asylum seekers from other countries are expected to apply for an individual “International Protection” status and are subject to a status determination procedure conducted by DGMM. There are three individual “International Protection” statuses from DGMM: 1) “refugees,” who are fleeing from events in Europe, and who are permitted long-term integration in Turkey; 2) “conditional refugees,” who are fleeing from events outside Europe, and who must await resettlement to a third country; and 3) “subsidiary protection” beneficiaries, who do not qualify as refugees or conditional refugees but who require protection because they face the death penalty, torture, or generalized violence amounting from armed conflict in their country of origin.

For all International Protection applicants, Turkey has what is called a “satellite city policy” which requires them to live in a designated province (which excludes the largest cities of Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir). Turkey has also recently required Syrian refugees under Temporary Protection to remain in the province in which they first registered.

UNHCR has still a key role in Turkey. In theory, DGMM is the sole decision-maker on asylum matters but in practice, however, UNHCR continues to undertake registration for non-Syrians and refugee status determination for a limited number of individuals whom they identify as being particularly vulnerable – based on UNHCR’s own mandate, not Turkish law – as well as the processing for resettlement of particularly vulnerable Syrian refugees.

Children playing soccer in one of the old streets of istanbul.

Children playing soccer in one of the old streets of istanbul. Photo by Ozan Safak on Unsplash

Information for asylum seekers and access to NGOs and UNHCR

The DGMM also operates a hotline service called Foreigners Communication Centre (Yabanci Iletisim Merkezi, YİMER). It is possible to reach the centres which serves in Turkish, English, Russian and Arabic at any time of day.

UNHCR has set up a platform (“Help”) which provides information in English, Turkish, Arabic and Farsi. Another useful resource about Turkish asylum procedure is provided by Aida here. Also, many NGOs provide assistance and counselling. It is important to know that international protection applicants and status holders are free to seek counselling services provided by NGOs.

Here a not-exhaustive list of NGOs:

  • SGDD-ASAM is the largest NGO and implementing partner of UNHCR in Turkey, upon registration in Ankara. It has offices in more than 70 cities in Turkey, including all satellite cities, and operates a helpline in different languages.
  • Refugee Rights Turkeyin Istanbul and Mülteci-Der in Izmir have helplines and can be accessed by phone.
  • IKGVhas 7 offices in Turkey and provides information and psycho-social support to approximately 200 people per week.
  • Support to Lifeand YUVA are also mainstream organisations that are very active in the field, the former having presence in eight cities.
  • KADAVis providing help for women in Istanbul.
  • KaosGLbased in Ankara assists LGBTI people living in cities such as Denizli, Eskişehir and Yalova.


Anna Silvestri

*first image: Istanbul, Turkey. Photo by Damla Özkan on Unsplash

Struggles for health: Refugees and migrants in Bangladesh

“An estimated 671.500 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh following violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State on 25 August 2017. There are now a total of 883.868 Forcibly Displaced Myanmar National (FDMN) in Bangladesh. The total population in need of health sector assistance is 1.3 million including approximately 300.000 from the host community population” (World Health Organisation Report 4/18)

People that are seeking asylum and migrants face immense health needs in Bangladesh, they are not a homogenous group, but all of them had to flee their origin countries in an attempt to survive and to find better living conditions.

From the moment asylum seekers are forced to leave their homes they face a wide range of difficulties, that affect their mental health and has a great impact and shape their acceptance and expectation of how their life is going to be in the host countries.

Not only they have to face a hard and dangerous journey they also have to deal with the lack of understanding and empathy of the host government structure and of the host population that is every day more and more against of their presence in their states and their desire and effort to have a decent life.

One of the big issues that refugees have to deal with in the guest state, is their access to effective health care. They have to overcome numerous difficulties such as the cultural, language and financial limits, but what troubles them the most is the lack of information and understanding of the Bangladeshi health system which adds up to the common distrust of the government services and prevents to have complete use of the health care system.

The problems that the new life has, trigger in parents what is called resettlement stress, which affect their ability to take care of their children. They are the ones facing most of the risks but unaccompanied and separated children are even more vulnerable because they experience further challenges in accessing health care.

But it is important to know that refugees and migrants’ health basic needs are the same as the ones of the world population, but poverty, environmental issues and social exclusion have a huge negative impact on their access to the health services.

The refugees and migrants’ struggle would be easier if the government and all the international organisation were able to coordinate themselves and use a strategic and human approach, but the size of the crisis and the environmental problems are a big threat and limit, therefore, it is important that charities and organisations such as Asylum Seekers keep doing their work.

Because providing information will definitely help refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to make and stay in contact with health and social agencies that with their resources and a patience approach have all the tools to provide a specialist help and support. This one of the ways that will improve their living in the host countries and make it a bit less traumatic.


Life in a minefield

Life in a minefield

This is my first ever article. I am not a writer/blogger. I maintain a diary for things such as my to-do list and reminders, my goals, scribbling and sometimes, venting. It was last week that I found purpose to write in it.

Like any ordinary day, while scrolling on facebook, a video of a Syrian kid weeping about being bombed by an airplane caught my notice. I had already heard a lot about Syria, Palestine, Israel, bombings,chlorine-attacks but it all seemed so confusing. I was completely oblivious as to what the real matter was, where did all of this start and why. I would watch Focus on Africa on BBC World News and wonder, once the deathly route from Nigeria to Europe was crossed, their hardships were over forever.

I was curious to know what was on, dismissed the current state of affairs as too complicated and had been stalling reading about it but realised it was high time. I began watching more videos of these kids and one thing was pretty evident, they were all so mature. They knew all of the politics that was on, had witnessed countless deaths of the ones closest to them, friends they would play with, right before their eyes, that I wouldn’t be surprised if they were wiser than me.

At an age where my parents would take me to our terrace and whenever a plane passed by I excitedly bid it goodbye, these kids are horrified just by the sound of an approaching airplane. One day there is greenery all around your home, a lovely bed, godlike parents, access to education, so many ambitions and the next day you wake up to rubble, shattered dreams and you may have just been orphaned. Words can’t describe their misery, but could things be worse ?

Yes. You could expect a “safer” country to offer you shelter, to rekindle your faith in life. You hope for a better tomorrow and set off on the hardest journey ever, your last hope for survival. After being deceived by various sorts of smugglers on the last few pennies you had, you have made it to the city you placed all your bets on. Now you register into one of the camps, and start to fend for yourself and your babies. No one is least bothered of how exhausted and distraught you are. You are directed towards a building that is full of people like you but no more space left in there for you. Finally you are sharing a room with 3–4 other alike families or possibly living in a tent under horrible weather conditions, without a blanket or any proper sanitary. If you’re a woman, you are bound to being assaulted sexually. You have been ripped off of your everything and now it is your dignity that is being encroached upon.

Finally you have reached a point where you wish you were bombed rather than escaping your beloved country. Yes. It was now that I realised, nothing like being in the place where you grew up. We fail to acknowledge how lucky we are to have a place we call home, such pampering parents, an education, a future to look forward to. My heartfelt gratitude to the soldiers on our borders!

These refugees were happy people like you and me. They would never leave their beautiful country. Before the uprising in 2011, Syria was in magnificent shape and today even her tiniest leaf has no life.

Homs,Syria – Before and After <>

Aerial view of devastated Homs . Syria’s 3rd largest city, capital of the revolution.

All these migrants wish to go back someday, they hope things will get better and their country will flourish again but everyone is bothered about their own nation. We are all bound by man-made borders for our “safety”. No one pays heed anymore to this news because we have problems of our own or because we are not capable enough to digest so much suffering or maybe because there is nothing we can really do about it or it can even make things messier or for the mere reason that a much talked about gadget’s release date is more ‘relevant’ news. So does that mean we turn a deaf ear to it all and leave them to their fate ? One thing that deeply bothers me is that if we can’t help end this, why aid it. If we cannot open our country doors to shelter them, set up more camps that are livable, why deploy warships and prolong the bloodshed. Isn’t the damage done enough yet? Humanity remains just another word in the dictionary.

It is us because of whom these kids will never know the meaning of that word. We aren’t capable enough of showing them its power. In some way we are all contributing to them growing up with all this hatred. But remember! It’s just another day, for you and me, in paradise!

-Unnati Bellare


Photo by aladdin hammami on Unsplash

<h4><strong>In pursuit of safety: Homs (Syria) to Germany</strong></h4>

In pursuit of safety: Homs (Syria) to Germany

Young Syrian boy demonstrates with a poster that says “We demand the rescue of civilians in Deir ez-Zor from the brutal attacks on them”.Young boy lies on the floor in safe sunshine of Germany along with Syrian Flag, but with a purpose. After passing through dangerous journeys and fleeing war-torn areas of Syria, he is determined to speak for his human rights. Living in the German city of Friedrichshafen, he along with other young people demonstrated on streets in solidarity with their country. They raised voice against injustice, killing and bombings they have seen in Syrian regime. They wanted to tell German people that they left their beloved homeland because of the war.</entry-content p>

He belongs to city of Homs, Syria and was displaced because of the regime and daily killings and shelling in his area. He said he doesn’t want anything but a safe place to live. He also aspires to learn more and complete his academic career, which he was deprived of when he was in Syria. He has participated in this protest because he got approval from local German police. He said his and his brother’s sincere prayers are for Germany which gave them safe heaven to live. He is thankful to German government to help them but he also wants them to show empathy. He saw some demonstrations against refugees that he thinks is wrong.

He is a peaceful person he believes and would do nothing to disrupt the lives of other people in Germany. He wants international community to give attention to this issue and to aid refugees. He wants them to help the people who are victims of war is Syria and are getting killed every now and then. And these talks should not be limited to just talk, actions must be taken immediately to stop the war and solve issues mutually.

Furthermore, he shows his gratitude and determination by saying that he wants to be an active and productive member of German society and sometimes he misses his life in Syria. His dream is to live in a safe place where he can learn and study. That place he believes is Germany because it is the only country that accepted him after all the other countries abandoned him.

The voice of our client is shared by Aqsa Khalid, a volunteer Coordinator at Asylum Links EU. She holds a Masters degree in Clinical Social Work.

If you would like to get involved, you can join our group of volunteers. With your support, we will continue to provide this service.