Access at the land border
Turkey has constructed a 144km wall on its Iranian border, although some stakeholders have questioned its efficacy. Irregular arrivals are often reported in Van, Ağrı and Erzurum in the east, and Muğla, Aydın, İzmir, Çanakkale, Edirne and İstanbul in the west. According to DGMM statistics, Afghanistan was the top nationality of persons apprehended for irregular migration in 2020, with 50,161 out of a total of 122,302 apprehended persons. This represents a dramatic drop in the number of irregular migrants apprehended from 2019 (454,662) which had seen the highest number since records began.
Increasing numbers of arrivals through the Iranian border has led to restrictive measures and arbitrary detention and deportation practices (see Place of Detention), with mainly single Afghan men being issued deportation (“T1”) forms. The “T1” forms are usually issued following administrative detention in a Removal Centre or a police station, and are stored in the DGMM electronic file management system named “Göç-Net”. If a “T1” deportation decision has been issued, the person cannot apply for international protection and the decision can only be challenged by a judicial appeal.
The Covid-19 pandemic had serious effects in Iran as of March 2020 which meant there was a decrease in the number of refugees who entered Turkey from the Iranian border. The border was closed and the weather conditions in winter were harsh. Although the number of people was lower compared to 2019, it increased again in May and many people were at risk of freezing. In June, 65 people lost their lives after a boat sank on Lake Van.  There have been three deaths as of March 2021 in Ozalp due to freezing, one in Baskale and three due to attacks by wild animals. In October 2020, NGOs and media reported a case of 73 refugees (including 33 Afghans, 37 Pakistani and 2 Iraqi citizens) who were smuggled in an overcrowded vehicle. An Afghan citizen stated in his testimony that there were people who fainted due to lack of air in the van, but the smuggler ignored their request for help even though they punched doors and shouted. Refugees are often abandoned by human traffickers in the middle of nowhere, and many die alone in the mountains. Bodies are buried in a potter’s field in Van with over 200 graves.
Following the Turkish authorities’ announcement that they would open the borders with Greece and Bulgaria on 27 February 2020, refugees were encouraged to leave their registered provinces and go to the Pazarkule border gate by state officials. Reporting obligations were put aside and no action was taken concerning travel companies transporting refugees from different cities to Pazarkule without a travel permit. The Ministry of Internal Affairs tweeted that the roads were open for refugees going to the Western border, and the DGMM retweeted it. Usually road permits are granted in writing but suddenly it was possible to travel without a road permit. People were brought to Edirne by buses from various cities. There were a lot of human traffickers on the way. According to NGO representatives’ statements, removal centres were emptied. Undocumented Afghan refugees also confirmed that they were encouraged by the authorities. This provocation led approximately 13,000 (mostly undocumented) refugees to gather at the Pazarkule border in Edirne. Although there were people from many different countries, activists working in the field reported that the majority were Afghans.
In response to the Turkish State’s announcement, the Greek government chose to militarise the land border. After their failed attempts to cross the border, many refugees had to find accommodation in an open field in the buffer zone in the cold weather and with poor hygiene conditions. No shelter was provided, neither by the State nor NGOs in the buffer zone. Refugees ‘constructed’ temporary shelters out of plastic bags and tree branches. Supplies of basic food packages were provided by the Turkish Red Crescent, DGMM and AFAD, but were insufficient. The number of toilets and washing units were also inadequate for thousands of people in the zone.
Greece introduced an emergency legislative decree on 2 March 2020 suspending the right to seek asylum for individuals entering Greece for a period of one month and for their return without registration, to their countries of origin or transit. More information is available on the AIDA report on Greece. Then due to the Covid-19 pandemic Greek asylum services were temporarily suspended on 13 March 2020.
It was reported that Greek border guards used pepper spray, tear gas, high-pressure water, and even real bullets, leading to several cases of injuries. The medical assistance provided in the Field Tent Hospital operated by UMKE (National Medical Rescue Team) was reportedly insufficient. Sufficient medicine for patients having chronic diseases could not be provided. Since access to COVID-19 tests was unavailable, there is no reliable data about the number of Covid-19 cases.
The Pazarkule border crisis got worse with the outbreak of the pandemic. Following the first officially confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, refugees were told that they could be voluntarily transferred to Istanbul. The first group of Edirne returnees was abandoned in the bus station with no assistance or quarantine measures. Most of them had to stay in the bus station since no bus service was provided due to COVID-19. As of 26 March 2020, the rest of the refugee population in Pazarkule was forcefully moved out from the buffer zone and kept in quarantine for 14 days in removal centres or state dormitories. Following the 14-day period, they were either released with no assistance or referred to random cities during the country-wide lockdown measures. Some undocumented refugees were registered in the province where they were kept in quarantine. These inconsistent practices caused serious human rights violations. One group of 100 people, mostly Afghans were released in Izmir after a 2-day quarantine. NGO representatives reported that since the transportation companies were not operating due to COVID-19, some of the group had to walk for 3-4 hours to the bus station.
At first, journalists were allowed to go to the buffer zone and document refugees’ attempt to cross the border as well as their living conditions. But later they were required to get permission. Refugees who wanted to leave the border zone to go to a more central area to meet their needs were obliged to give their fingerprints to Gendarmerie/DGMM officers. New arrivals to the buffer zone were not allowed after 8 March 2020.
Due to unfavourable weather conditions, heating became a serious problem for those at the border. 20 prefabricated restrooms were insufficient for the crowded population. Due to safety concerns women could not go to the bathroom without a male companion in the evenings. Many women interviewees reported that they could not have a bath because the only option was to take a bath in the river or with cold water with their clothes.
Humanitarian aid was coordinated by The Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) and AFAD, other NGOs were also active. There was no plan regarding aid distribution and vulnerable groups were not taken into consideration. DGMM and the gendarmerie controlled the entrances and exits from the buffer zone by checking fingerprints. Young men, in particular, waited in line for 4-5 hours to exit to find food and shelter. It was reported that the gendarmerie physically forced people in the queue to stand up and stay close to each other. Some refugees were given a bottle of water or a loaf of bread after waiting in the food aid line for hours. The approximate waiting time was 4-5 hours.
Some refugees expressed their worries regarding their personal safety and pointed out security problems in the area. No specific action was taken against gender-based violence cases. The authorities ignored vulnerable groups who were open targets for sexual and physical violence. No action plan was in place to protect LGBT people, women or the disabled, etc. Leering and verbal harassment were prevalent. A 17 year old Afghan girl said a little boy was raped at night behind the public restrooms. Seven LGBTI+ individuals reported that they concealed their sexual identity out of fear. One lesbian couple hid their relationship. An Iranian woman was attacked by other refugees because she was carrying a rainbow flag. Women and LGBTI+ people could not access sanitary pads or condoms. Many of the refugee population in Pazarkule were minors. There were unaccompanied children too. Due to disorganisation and uncertainty, no systematic psychosocial support was provided for children. There was a space called the “Mobile Child Friendly Space” in the area where Kızılay workers organised activities for children but the majority did not go because they either did not want to leave their family or their family would not let them. Children were also traumatised because of the constant gas bombing coming from the Greek side.
In April 2020, 50 refugees (including Afghans, Syrians, Pakistanis and Algerians) in the Greek-Turkish buffer zone were taken to the riverside by the Turkish border guards and pushed back to Greece. After being forcefully pushed back to Turkey by Greek forces, one Turkish police officer pointed his gun at one refugee’s head from the group and threatened that they had to leave Turkey.
After the Pazarkule incidents, there were those in need of healthcare but the only way to register them was through ‘acquaintances’ as even very ill Syrians cannot be registered in Istanbul. People were held in removal centres for quarantine. Deportation orders were issued in some places to create a legitimate basis for their detention. There were hundreds of refugees whose legal status was uncertain. Those who were registered returned to their satellite cities, but for those who were unregistered it was difficult to know whether a deportation decision had been issued or not. Administrative penalties were then imposed on people on their way back to the satellite cities where they were registered. When they returned to their assigned cities, people had more problems because they had sold all their assets before going to Pazarkule.. It was claimed that as there was no written statement that they could go to a third safe country, their temporary/international protection applications were deemed withdrawn by DGMM. Some were told that they had missed the signature day.
Several men were severely burned trying to cross the border to Greece. There are fences in the field along the river, between Pazarkule and Greece, a little further from the gendarmerie. 4-5 Afghan men tried to jump across to the Greek side at midnight, but a Greek soldier poured boiling water with a kettle on their faces. A case has been reportedly sent to the European Court of Human Rights.
Access to the territory through the Syrian land border is discussed in detail in Temporary Protection: Admission to Territory.
Access at the airport
Airports in Istanbul (Sabiha Gökçen and Istanbul) continue to serve as a key international hub for connection flights from refugee-producing regions to European and other Western destinations for asylum. It should be noted that visa restrictions have applied to Syrian nationals arriving from third countries by air and sea since 2016. The main airport is now the new Istanbul Airport and access there was much improved before the Covid pandemic.
In 2020, strict measures were implemented at Turkish airports due to COVID-19. Admissible passengers, inadmissible passengers and waiting times all completely changed. Passengers were kept in quarantine for 14 days in tiny rooms at the airport until summer 2020. Later on, depending on their individual situation people were taken to removal centres or buildings that are called guesthouses and released from there. Some were returned directly to their country of origin, although issues arose in case of travel restrictions. Apart from the attempts to send people back to their country of origin, Turkish citizens were treated in the same way. 
Normally, airports are problematic and individuals cannot submit their international protection applications. Turkey’s open-door policy ended with the signature of the EU-Turkey Statement in 2016 and since then very few applications have been accepted at the borders. The practice seems to be to reject them explicityly or implicitly – not processing the applications that are accepted. After the Covid-19 pandemic, people were taken from Istanbul Airports and placed in removal centres. They were then released. This was a good practice as asylum seekers could thus enter the country, even if they were subject to an obligation to report regularly in Istanbul.
When a person was obliged to give their signature regularly as part of the reporting process, there were sometimes problems and they had to go to another city because applications were closed in Istanbul. In certain cases, when a person wanted to go to another city to apply for international protection, the application was not accepted because the person was obliged to periodically give their signature in Istanbul. Transferring the obligation to sign in to the city of registration takes a long time due to a lack of communication between PDMMs.
 Information provided by a stakeholder in March 2019.
 Information provided by a lawyer from the Van Bar Association, February 2020. See also Human Rights 360°, ‘Greek Civil Society Requests European Commission Assessment on Respect of EU Asylum Law Safeguards at the Greek Borders’, 28 April 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3besxgJ.
 Information provided by a stakeholder, March 2021.
 Information provided by a stakeholder, March 2021.
 Information from a stakeholder, March 2021.