Access to detention facilities

Turkey

Country Report: Access to detention facilities Last updated: 31/05/21

Author

Independent

Under Article 68(8) LFIP, detained applicants for international protection will be provided opportunities to meet with their legal representatives, UNHCR officials and notaries. The law, however, fails to make explicit reference to the right of detained applicants to meet with NGO representatives. It is considered that this deliberate absence is meant to limit or deny detained applicants’ access to NGO legal counsellors, which must be seen as an arbitrary reduction of the safeguard in Article 68 LFIP.

Detained applicants may also receive visitors. In this regard, all visits will be subject to permission. Visits to detained applicants at border premises are subject to permission from the Vice-Governor’s Office in charge of the border gate. Visits to detained applicants in other facilities are subject to the permission of the DGMM official in charge of the facility. Request for visiting a detained applicant may be turned down where the “applicant’s condition and the general circumstances are not suitable”. This vague formulation raises concerns that arbitrary restrictions may be imposed on visitors’ access to the centres.

Detention authorities shall determine the duration of the approved meetings and visits. On the other hand, they are required to take measures to ensure confidentiality of the encounters.

Access of lawyers to Removal Centres

According to an unpublished DGMM Circular of 17 December 2015, lawyers are only granted access to Removal Centres on the basis of written requests,[1] and can only request a copy of documents deemed not to be confidential, provided they have a power of attorney.[2]

This practice changed in 2019 and lawyers were able to visit their clients in many removal centres without showing a power of attorney or written request. This was not the case in Izmir, Kirikkale or the new removal centre in Ankara, however.

In Izmir the removal centre management still required power of attorney to let the lawyers in to have a pre-meeting with their potential clients. Even though according to Code on Lawyers, lawyers have the right to meet with their potential clients without it.[3] Lawyers have been also subjected to long delays and security checks including X-ray body searches before being able to interview clients.[4] More generally, there have been allegations that detainees have not been allowed to meet with lawyers even where lawyers request to access them by name.[5] Complaints against security guards have also been filed by lawyers.[6]

Harmandalı Removal Centre management in Izmir does not report requests from refugees for legal aid to the lawyers directly. Lawyers become aware of the request through their relatives or by coincidence. This continued in 2020 when lawyers were informed of the presence of their clients in removal centres by NGOs and social networks of the person in detention. Lawyers have also complained to Izmir PDMM about physical limitations in the removal centre, such as unlawful body searches targeting lawyers.[7] In 2019 lawyers from the Izmir Bar Association of Izmir were arbitrarily detained in the Harmandalı Removal Centre during a visit to meet with asylum seekers.[8] There have been other reports of restrictions for legal aid lawyers such as not letting the lawyer examine the personal file of the refugee or banning the lawyer from reading all documents in the file or prohibiting the lawyer from the client-lawyer meeting. This is a worrying issue as the time limit to appeal deportation is now seven days, meaning there are only seven days to contact their lawyer, collect all relevant data and file the lawsuit. In addition, if a lawyer does not accept a body search, requests to see their client are not accepted or they have to wait long hours in the removal centre. It seems that young lawyers in particular are subject to these unlawful practices.[9]

Quarantine and pandemic measures further restrained access to removal centres in Izmir in 2020. Lawyers and interpreters were reluctant to go to removal centres out of fear of COVID-19 contaminations, and NGOs started working from home. Lawyers who did go to the removal centre in COVID-19 times only had the opportunity to see the file. Meetings with clients was not allowed because of quarantine. If there is no payphone in the relevant section of the removal centre, refugees’ access to their family, lawyer, and the Bar Association was practically non-existent. Lawyers could not reach clients and there was no information about the fate of the person. Foreigners benefited from the decision of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors to suspend the legal time periods due to Covid-19 pandemic from April to 14 June 2020. However, after June 15, the seven-day time period continued to be a huge problem. A HES code was requested from lawyers to enter removal centres.

The removal centre in Ankara does not accept lawyers after 17.00. Lawyers have difficulties examining the files of their potential clients. The removal centre management asks for power of attorney to examine the files however Ankara PDMM has offered to assist in solving this issue. The removal centre is located far away from the centre and the only transportation is by car or taxi.[10]

In Kirikkale the removal centre is also far away from the city centre. Requests for a legal aid lawyer are not delivered to the bar association from the removal centre authority, which requests a power of attorney from the lawyer to access the removal centre. Requests for assistance are mainly received through the family members of the detained refugee or UNHCR.[11]

In 2019 lawyers were also subject to searches in Antep and Van removal centres.[12] In Van removal centre the first person to deal with the lawyer is a gendarmerie or koy korucusu (‘village guard”) who can create problems especially for young lawyers such as unlawful body checks or prohibiting them from client-lawyer meetings. It is possible for lawyers to use the Union of Bar Association’s translation service through a fix line in the removal centre. There is no translator in the removal centre.[13] In 2020 Van Bar Association and PDMM agreed a protocol on not conducting client-lawyer meetings except in very urgent cases after March 2020 due to COVID-19. For urgent cases a remote meeting took place by phone. As of June, this practice ended and face to face interviews restarted. There were a lot of complaints from lawyers that cell phones were not allowed in the removal centre, and lawyers often could not meet their clients under pretexts such as staff shortages or because of small inconsistencies between the detained person’s formal name and the name notified by NGOs.[14]

Where the lawyer does not provide a sworn interpreter, the management of the centre usually relies on other detainees to provide interpretation, a practice which raises questions vis-à-vis the confidentiality of interviews in Removal Centres.[15] Arabic-speaking staff of the centre provide interpretation assistance to lawyers when needed.[16] In Izmir lawyers need to bring their own interpreter who has to be under oath. Certified translators continued to be requested in 2020. There is a fixed line to use the translation service provided by the Turkish Bar Association but the fixed line is not in the lawyers’ meeting room but in a migration officer’s room which is one floor above lawyer-client meeting room, meaning lawyers and their clients cannot benefit from it.[17] There is no obstacle for the notary to enter, but the fees and related expenses are significant. Fees vary depending on whether the person has an ID and speaks Turkish or not. A power of attorney document costs around 1,000 Turkish Liras (approx. 100 EUR). However, if the lawyer is assigned through legal aid, this power of attorney can be presented to the court. Administrative courts in other provinces may not accept the assignment of legal aid from the Izmir Bar and demand a separate power of attorney.[18]

In Istanbul NGO lawyers can access removal centres without submitting power of attorney but they usually wait for a long time. There are four detention centres in Istanbul: Selimpasa, Binkilic, Tuzla and Pendik. Tuzla and Pendik have been recently activated. Kumkapi and Vatan Police Stations in Istanbul are also used. This means that when a legal aid lawyer receives an appointment through the legal aid service, the lawyer has to check these six locations to find out where the client is. Police officers can reportedly give misleading information to lawyers in order to prevent them accessing their client. Kumkapi and Vatan Police Stations are not lawyer-friendly places. For legal aid lawyers, access to removal centres is very difficult if they have no car. They are 60 km away from the centre. The current legal aid project does not always cover transportation costs. Lawyers are not always willing to accept appointments on refugee law cases because it takes at least 3 hours to access removal centres.[19]

In Kayseri, lawyers have reported having full access to the Removal Centre and benefitting from a separate room for meetings with clients; previously Removal Centre staff was present during meetings but this practice has now stopped.[20] In Antalya, a security guard is present during lawyer / client meetings if the person has been issued a YTS code.[21]

Lawyers entering Removal Centres such as Izmir (Harmandalı), Hatay, Adana or Mersin are only allowed to see their clients in highly secured meeting rooms equipped with cameras.[22] In Izmir there are now separate rooms with one table and chairs specifically allocated for lawyers and their clients but they are monitored by cameras.[23] Lawyers can take notes of the meeting. In Gaziantep, a room for meetings with lawyers is currently under construction.[24] In some centres the meeting room doors are open, thereby not guaranteeing confidentiality.

Lawyers’ access to detained clients is often hindered by transfers of detainees between Removal Centres without notifying their legal representative or the family members.[25]

Lawyers’ access to airports was restricted in recent years but this improved overall in 2019.[26] There is now a new airport in Istanbul which is called Istanbul Airport. Conditions in the new airport for migrants who are not allowed to enter in Turkey is better than the old airport, Atatürk Airport. There is a unit of the PDMM in the airport and lawyers can easily access case files. This is new and good practice. The main problems are accessing notaries and the long distance between the airport and the centre. In 2019, there were no legal aid request from airports where migrants were kept waiting at airports for a long time. Now, people who are not allowed to enter in Turkey are sent back to their countries or a safe third country immediately.[27]

At the beginning of COVID-19, lawyers were not allowed to meet their clients at the removal centres and kept in contact via phone. NGOs also mainly worked by phone. Some NGOs like the Positive Living Association went on the field and occasionally an NGO would accompany refugees to PDMMs for registration, but this was rare. Overall, NGO activity decreased and was limited to tele-counseling.

In Istanbul there were serious problems in accessing Binkılıç, Selimpaşa, Tuzla removal centres and police stations as well as clients’ files due to COVID-19. Lawyers were asked to wait outside buildings, i.e. they were not allowed to enter the building and meet with their clients. Lawyers were not able to get a copy of clients’ file or get clear information about their client’s location. There were interpreters present in removal centers and police stations and providing interpretation services when necessary, but other translators likely to be more neutral were not allowed in the buildings. Attorneys in Istanbul used CIMER (Communication Directorate of the Presidency) extensively in cases where there was no access to files, and it was effective. The Presidency’s Communication Centre (CIMER) is an online platform established to provide a quick and effective response to requests, complaints and applications for information from the public.[28] The administrative complaints mechanism is ineffective, judicial methods are rather slow, but CIMER is a very useful remedy in this regard. Due to the pandemic notaries and interpreters worked in shifts, and their fees were increased.[29]

Access of UNHCR and NGOs to Removal Centres

The Removal Centres Regulation does not expressly regulate the conditions upon which UNHCR and NGOs have access to Removal Centres.

In practice, UNHCR does not have unhindered access to Removal Centres but has developed working modalities with DGMM. In 2018 this meant UNHCR submitted requests to visit Removal Centres on a periodic basis. UNHCR visited the premises, observed procedures and provided recommendations.[30] In previous years UNHCR rarely visited removal centres, but visits were even less frequent in 2020 due to COVID-19.[31]

NGOs have no established protocols with DGMM for access to Removal Centres.[32] As regards access to and contact with family members, practice varies across the centres. In Gaziantep, detainees can call family members for a maximum of 15 minutes two days a week, while in Hatay they can call every day. Family visits are more restricted in Gaziantep.[33]

 

 

[1]        According to UNHCR, this procedure is established with a view to ensuring that persons accessing the centres are accredited lawyers and does not constitute a violation of the right to a lawyer: Information provided by UNHCR, February 2018.

[2]        DGMM Circular No 31386081-000-36499 of 17 December 2015 “Avukatların Ggm’Ierdeki Yabancılarla Görüşme Talebi”.

[3]        Information provided by a lawyer from the Izmir Bar Association, February 2020.

[4]        Information provided by a lawyer of the Izmir Bar Association, March 2019. See also Human Rights Association, ‘İzmir Harmandalı Geri Gönderme Merkezi Hakkında Gözlem Raporu’, 9 July 2017, available in Turkish at: http://bit.ly/2G7ZGtq.

[5]        Council of Europe Special Representative for Migration and Refugees, Report of the fact-finding visit to Turkey, 10 August 2016, para IV.2.

[6]        Information provided by a lawyer of the Izmir Bar Association, March 2019.

[7]        Information provided by a lawyer from the Izmir Bar Association, February 2020.

[8]        ECRE, ‘Turkey: Lawyers Arbitrarily Detained in Izmir Removal Centre’, 31 May 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2WTgQG0.

[9]        Information provided by a lawyer from the Izmir Bar Association March 2020.

[10]       Information provided by a lawyer from the Ankara Bar Association, March 2020.

[11]       Information provided by a stakeholder, February 2020.

[12]       Information provided by a stakeholder in Gaziantep, February 2020.

[13]       Information provided by a lawyer from the Van Bar Association, March 2020.

[14]       Information provided by a stakeholder, March 2021.

[15]       Information provided by a stakeholder, February 2019.

[16]       Information provided by a lawyer of the Kayseri Bar Association, February 2019; a lawyer of the Antakya Bar Association, March 2019.

[17]       Information provided by a lawyer from the Izmir Bar Association, February 2020.

[18]       Information provided by a stakeholder, March 2021.

[19]       Information provided by a lawyer from the Istanbul Bar Association, February 2020.

[20]       Information provided by a lawyer of the Kayseri Bar Association, February 2019.

[21]       Information provided by a lawyer of the Antalya Bar Association, March 2019.

[22]       Grand National Assembly, İzmir-Aydın Geri Gönderme Merkezleri İnceleme Raporu, November 2017, 20.

[23]       Information provided by a lawyer from the Izmir Bar Association, February 2020.

[24]       Information provided by a lawyer of the Gaziantep Bar Association, February 2019; an NGO, February 2019.

[25]       Information provided by NGOs, February 2019; a lawyer of the Antakya Bar Association, March 2019.

[26]       Information provided by an NGO, February 2019; International Refugee Rights Association, February 2019.

[27]       Information provided by a lawyer from Istanbul Bar Association, February 2020.

[28]       See, Presidency of the Republic of Turkey, Directorate of Communications, “CIMER Revolution: In today’s Turkey, our citizens have a share in state administration”, 3 December 2019. Available at: https://bit.ly/2Qbz9oK.

[29]       Information provided by a stakeholder, March 2021.

[30]       Information provided by UNHCR, February 2019.

[31]       Information provided by a stakeholder, March 2021.

[32]       Information provided by SGDD-ASAM, February 2018.

[33]       Information provided by a lawyer of the Antakya Bar Association, February 2018.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of main changes since the previous report update
  • Introduction to the asylum context in Turkey
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • Temporary Protection Regime
  • Content of Temporary Protection