The report was last updated in March 2019.
2019 could be seen as the year of social cohesion and return in Turkey with time and resources invested by the authorities in both areas.
Several stakeholders noted a change more generally in the way the authorities work. The system became more centralised and closer attention was paid to national security issues. This in turn affected how much the authorities interacted with NGOs, meaning less cooperation.
Operations by the authorities starting in July 2019 to apprehend irregular migrants and Syrians who were not registered in Istanbul, considerably increased detention. There was a ripple effect across Turkey as those apprehended were sent to removal centres and temporary accommodation centres in different cities with reports of increases in deportations, cancellations of temporary protection and pressure on the registration process for new applicants. There were also concerns of enforced returns to Syria, including of the Dom population, a minority that can face discrimination from public authorities in Turkey.
The European Union (EU) continued to provide funding and support to the Turkish authorities through the EU-Turkey statement in 2019. The Facility for Refugees in Turkey provides humanitarian assistance coordinated by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian AID operations (ECHO) including considerable sums for education. The Instrument for Pre-Accession supports the Turkish government to increase capacity and skills, including on the registration process and applications for international protection, with additional support from the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and individual Member States. The EU also provides significant funding for detention in Turkey funding the construction of 6 detention centres (Izmir, Kirklareli, Van, Ezurum and Gaziantep) with six more centres to be co-financed in Balıkesir, Adana, Kütahya, Niğde, Şanlıurfa and Malatya.
In the context of the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement between 4 April 2016 and 31 January 2020, Turkey readmitted a total of 2,054 persons from Greece including citizens of Pakistan, Syria, Algeria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Bangladesh. As of March 2020, 26,135 Syrians had been resettled (since 2016) to the EU under the 1:1 scheme.
The bigger political picture saw Turkey pushing for a ‘safe zone’ in northeastern Syria and promoting returns to Syria. There was also a stand-off between the EU and Turkey in early 2020 as Turkey opened its borders to Europe whilst Greece temporarily closed its borders, including to refugees, resulting in inhumane conditions at the Greek-Turkish border.
International protection procedure
- Reform of the Law on Foreigners and International Protection (LFIP): There was a major amendment to the LFIP in 2019. This affected provisions on cessation, documentation, the international protection procedure, reception conditions, access to health care and return.
- Registration: Since 2018 applications for international protection have been registered by the Provincial Directorate for Migration Management (PDMM) in all 81 provinces. Since the takeover of the process by DGMM and the termination of UNHCR’s registration activities, there have been severe obstacles to accessing the international protection procedure particularly for Afghan nationals, which continued in 2019. It is often unclear which “satellite city” is open to applications and applicants still have problems having to travel to the assigned province without being provided documentation to attest their intention to seek international protection, thus facing risks of arrest and detention. The number of unregistered irregular migrants grew.
- Quality of the first-instance procedure: Overall, practice on the examination and the decision-making at first instance is not uniform across provinces. The quality of interviews, the assessment of evidence, the lack of identification of vulnerable groups, the lack of training of migration experts as well as the lack of available interpreters have been reported as particular concerns throughout the year. Quality gaps at first instance have also been identified by Administrative Courts in certain cases.
- Access to information: Several developments have been reported with regard to access to information in 2019. This included inter alia the distribution of over 280,000 information leaflets and 10,000 posters on legal aid and international protection procedures in seven languages as well as the possibility to obtain information through hotline services, such as DGMM’s Foreigners Communication Centre (Yabancı Iletisim Merkezi, YİMER) which was contacted 490,630 times in 2019; as well as UNHCR’s Counselling lines for refugees and asylum seekers, which answered 110,463 unique calls from 1 July to 31 December 2019.
- Legal assistance: The legal aid project implemented by the Union of Bar Associations in Turkey in collaboration with UNHCR, continues to provide free legal assistance to asylum seekers at all stages of the international protection procedure, detention, as well as on civil law matters and women’s rights. There are now three Refugee Law Clinics in Şanlıurfa, Gaziantep and Hatay that provided legal assistance to more than 2,700 refugees and asylum seekers in 2019.
- Protection from refoulement: In 2018 the Constitutional Court launched a pilot procedure to examine whether high numbers of requests for interim measures stemmed from a structural problem to protection from refoulement. It published its decision in July 2019, ruling that appeals against removal should have automatic suspensive effect. This has led to a legal amendment of Articles 53(3) and 54(1) LFIP and appeals now often stop deportations, thus strengthening the rights to prevent refoulement.
- Housing: One of the most prominent shortcomings of Turkey’s legal framework for asylum remains the failure to commit to providing state-funded accommodation to international protection applicants. International protection applicants and status holders must secure their own accommodation by their own means and financial assistance to cover housing expenses is not provided. There is only one remaining Reception and Accommodation Centre in operation in the province of Yozgat with a modest capacity of 100 places. As a result, many applicants are left destitute and homeless, live in poor conditions and are at risk of serious human rights violations.
- Health care: There were changes to the LFIP in December 2019. Article 89(3)(a) LFIP now provides that access to health care under Turkey's General Health Insurance (Genel Sağlık Sigortası, GSS) is provided to applicants for international protection for one year after the registration of their application, with the exception of persons with special needs. The right to health care ceases upon the issuance of a negative decision.
Detention of asylum seekers
- Detention without legal basis: Intensified police checks and apprehension of persons found outside their assigned “satellite city” have led to an increase in detention in Removal Centres, even though there is no basis in the LFIP for detaining an applicant for violating residence restrictions. Operations by the authorities in Istanbul starting in July 2019 increased the unlawful detention of unregistered Syrians and non-Syrians. According to Istanbul PDMM, 42,888 irregular migrants were sent to detention centres in several cities and 6,416 unregistered Syrians were sent to temporary accommodation centres between 12 July 2019 and 15 November 2019.
- Place of detention: Detention capacity increased in 2019 with a total of 28 active Removal Centres accommodating 20,000 persons. In times of pressure in 2019 other facilities were used for pre-removal detention due to capacity shortage including police stations and sport venues.
- Alternatives to detention: New amendments to the law in December 2019 included Article 57(A) LFIP which lays down alternatives to pre-removal detention including inter alia: residence at a specific address, working on a voluntary basis for public good, reporting duties, family based return, return counselling, financial guarantees and electronic tagging. These measures shall not be applied for more than 24 months and non-compliance shall be a ground for imposing pre-removal detention. However, it is too early to tell how this will affect practice overall.
- Appeals against detention orders: In 2019 lawyers complained of ‘systematic’ rejections of appeals against detention orders in Antakya and Izmir and widespread rejections in Van.
- Access to detention facilities: Although the situation improved in 2019 there can still be restrictions for lawyers seeking to meet those in detention in Removal Centres in certain detention facilities, for example, Izmir, and for younger or less experienced lawyers.
Content of international protection
- Residence permit: Previously refugees were granted an International Protection Status Holder Identification Document with a validity period of 3 years, while conditional refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection were issued a document valid for 1 year. However, these provisions were amended on 24 December 2019. For those who are granted conditional refugee status, subsidiary protection and international protection status, an identity document including foreign identity number is issued. The duration of validity of these documents, along with the rules on format and content, is to be determined by the Ministry of Interior.
Temporary protection procedure
- Registration: The issues mentioned above on the registration of applicants for international protection also apply to the registration of individuals falling under the temporary protection procedure (i.e. unclarity as to which cities are open/closed for registration, lack of ID documents resulting in irregular migrants being at risk of deportation and administrative detention). Additional issues relate to the significant delays in security checks and pre-registration which may take several months depending on the province. This is exacerbated by a lack of interpreters and other practical impediments to registration such as errors on the part of DGMM officials, which may only be corrected following time-consuming legal intervention.
- Voluntary return: Many stakeholders have expressed serious concerns on the enforced signing of voluntary return forms in 2019, particularly from detention. This included providing wrong and/or misleading information as well as intimidation. Following an important operation that started in mid-July, 42,888 irregular migrants were sent to detention centres in several cities and 6,416 unregistered Syrians were sent to temporary accommodation centres between 12 July 2019 and 15 November 2019. Several appeals against administrative detention and deportation decisions are now pending before courts in Istanbul.
- Access to services upon return to Turkey: A DGMM Circular of 7 January 2019 clarified that persons returning to Turkey as of 1 January 2019 after having signed a “voluntary return document”, especially pregnant women, elderly persons and children, should be allowed to re-access services. This has worked in some provinces but not in others and many stakeholders have noted difficulties in getting temporary protection status ‘re-activated’ once people are back in Turkey.
Content of temporary protection
- The Temporary Protection Regulation: This was amended on 25 December 2019. The amendment announced new courses on personal development, social, cultural, professional, technical, artistic and sports for beneficiaries of temporary protection. However, according to the amendment Syrians under temporary protection will now be deported if they do not comply with their notification duty three times consecutively. This leaves refugees with language problems and a lack of legal advice more vulnerable.
- Housing: The number of temporary accommodation centres (TACS) is steadily reducing. In 2019 a further six TACs closed. A one-off cash relocation assistance package to cover transportation, rent and immediate needs was provided to over 77,800 refugees (15,400 families) choosing to move out of the TACs. As of 27 February 2020, the total population of temporary protection beneficiaries registered with Turkish authorities was listed as 3,587,266, of which less than 2% were accommodated in the TACs, whereas 3,523,218 were resident outside the camps. However, many of them face several important issues after having been moved out including social cohesion, language barriers, access to services and housing. This can result in poor living conditions and incidents of tension, discrimination as well as violence with locals.
- Access to education: The authorities, the EU and other stakeholders continued to support large scale efforts to increase access to education, including formal, informal and vocational for beneficiaries of international protection. The number of Temporary Education Centres (Geçici Eğitim Merkezi, GEM) continued to drop.
UNHCR, Returns from Greece to Turkey, 31 January 2020, available at: http://bit.ly/38XgArI.
 Law No 7196 amending several acts, 6 December 2019, in Turkish at: http://bit.ly/2TSm0zU. Also see: Mülteci-Der, Joint Assessment: Proposed Amendments in the Law on Foreigners and International Protection of Turkey, 4 January 2019, available in Turkish at: https://bit.ly/2Jx4lrv; ECRE/AIDA, ‘Turkey: Proposed Reform of the Law on Foreigners and International Protection’, 25 November 2019, available at: http://bit.ly/3d4mdrm.
Afghans can often be seen as irregular migrants. See for example, DGMM ‘Our General Director Made Statements Regarding the Agenda in the Interview He Gave to the Anatolian News Agency’ 1 April 2020, where the General Director discusses how irregular migrants mainly come from Afghanistan and Pakistan, available at: https://bit.ly/3cylsWK .
Article 83(1) LFIP.
 Article 83(2) LFIP.
 Article 83 as amended by 85 7196 Law, 24 December 2019.
 See for example, Amnesty International, ‘Turkey: Syrians illegally deported into war ahead of anticipated ‘safe zone’’, 25 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2XTTa4V; and Human Rights Watch, ‘Turkey: Syrians being deported to danger’, 24 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2VFjCw7.
 Information provided by a lawyer from the Istanbul Bar Association, February 2020.
DGMM Circular 2019/1 on Cessation of Status of Syrians due to Voluntary Return, 7 January 2019.