Access to the territory and push backs

Türkiye

Country Report: Access to the territory and push backs Last updated: 17/08/22

Author

Independent

Access at the land border

Irregular arrivals are often reported in Van, Ağrı and Erzurum in the east, and Muğla, Aydın, İzmir, Çanakkale, Edirne and İstanbul in the west.

Türkiye constructed a 144km wall on its Iranian border in 2018-2019.[1] The wall was extended along the southern and eastern borders and in 2021 trenches and wire fences were added. The number of watchtowers and police stations also increased, and the border was controlled with technological devices, including surveillance by UAVs. President Erdogan reported the wall was 1040 metres long by August 2021, with plans to extend it further including a wall on the border with Iran.[2]  These measures affected the flow of immigrants to a certain extent,[3] and numbers of crossings in Van decreased[4] although some stakeholders have questioned the wall’s efficacy.[5] Nevertheless, the wall(s) continued to be an important feature of government rhetoric on migration in the media.[6] The interior ministers of Türkiye and Iran also signed a memorandum of understanding to increase security along their borders.[7]

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.[8] The “T1” forms are usually issued following administrative detention in a Removal Centre or a police station, and are stored in the PMM 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.[9]

There was a decrease in the number of refugees who entered Türkiye via Iran in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but the numbers rose again in 2012. According to PMM statistics, Afghanistan was the top nationality of persons apprehended for irregular migration by far in 2021, with 70,252 out of a total of 162,996 apprehended persons. This represents a rise in the total number of irregular migrants apprehended from 2020 (122,302), although it is still far from 2019 (454,662) which had seen the highest number since records began.[10]

Pushbacks remained a concern. It was said that there are around 2000 irregular entries per day to Türkiye but only 200 people are sent to removal centres, so the rest are either pushed backed or manage to go to other cities.[11]

There were several official acknowledgements of pushbacks in 2021. A report claimed that gendarmerie had confirmed the national police had told them to push migrants back on the Türkiye-Iran border due to the high cost of feeding, housing and legally processing their claims.[12] In December 2021, Governor Bilmez from Van admitted to pushbacks against migrants on the Iranian-Turkish border, stating that nearly 120,000 migrants had been blocked from entering via the Van border that year.[13] The same governor admitted to 1,137 irregular migrants being blocked in January 2022.[14] Ağrı Governor Osman Varol reported that 75 percent of the irregular migrants caught in Ağrı on the Iranian border in recent years were from Afghanistan, 10 percent from Pakistan, 10 percent from Iran, and 5 percent from other countries.

In 2021, the number of people prevented from illegally passing through the Ağrı border was 28,509.[15]

This continues to be a deadly border.[16] For the majority of migrants and refugees, it is critical not to be caught by law enforcement in Türkiye because of fears of refoulement. This causes immigrants and smugglers to prefer steep and dangerous roads where there are no gendarmerie or police control. Migrant smugglers who do not want to be caught use Lake Van, which means the number of boats sinking in Lake Van and the number of immigrants who have lost their lives has been increasing in recent years. Migrants also pass through mountains and steep cliffs to cross the border, especially in winter, away from checkpoints. People lose their lives due to extreme cold, blizzard and occasional avalanches. There were three deaths in March 2021 in Ozalp due to freezing, one in Baskale and three due to attacks by wild animals. Human traffickers often abandon refugees in inaccessible areas, and many die alone in the mountains. Bodies are buried in a potter’s field in Van with over 200 graves.[17] Many immigrants have also lost their lives because of traffic accidents in vehicles organized by smugglers.[18] In July 2021, 12 people died as a result of a minibus carrying asylum seekers rolled into a ditch in the Muradiye district of Van.[19] It is a border frequently used by Afghan nationals and as such caused barriers to them seeking protection in 2021. [20]

One stakeholder spoke of a case where 61 people had lost their lives in a sinking boat and some were charged with intentional murder. Only one defendant was held in pre-trial detention. The case is still pending before the local court.[21] Those pushed back to Iran can be trapped in the mountains between Türkiye and Iran and face harsh treatment by the Iranian state authorities, including shooting and injury.[22] A stakeholder interviewed for the report had also heard Iranian soldiers caused physical injury and did their own ‘pushback’ so that Afghans could not return to Iran.[23] Another stakeholder noted that irregular migrants who were not caught often went into hiding in Van and were hesitant to apply for international protection in case they were pushed back. People were pushed from the border four or five times but still tried to enter Türkiye. Once they had entered many tried to travel to the western provinces of Türkiye. Afghans in particular, socially isolated themselves in order to avoid pushbacks.[24]

There have also been reports of pushbacks from Greece to Türkiye for several years.[25] Lawyers in Van have assisted in cases and highlighted illegalities in the deportation procedures.[26]

In 2020, there was a particular difficult situation at the Pazarkule border between Greece and Türkiye. The Turkish authorities announced that they would open the borders with Greece and Bulgaria on 27 February 2020 and refugees were encouraged to leave their registered provinces and go to the Pazarkule border gate by state officials. This provocation led approximately 13,000 (mostly undocumented) refugees to gather at the Pazarkule border in Edirne. In response to the Turkish State’s announcement, the Greek government chose to militarise the land border. 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, whilst the medical assistance provided in the Field Tent Hospital was reportedly insufficient. There is more information on the situation in Greece available on the AIDA report on Greece.

In Türkiye, the Pazarkule border crisis got worse with the outbreak of the pandemic. Due to unfavourable weather conditions, heating became a serious problem for those at the border. PMM 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. 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 Türkiye 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 Türkiye.[27]

After the Pazarkule incidents, those in need of healthcare struggled to access it. The only way to register them was through ‘acquaintances’ as even very ill Syrians cannot be registered in İstanbul. 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. 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. Reportedly, a case was brought in front of the European Court of Human Rights.[28]

Since then there has been regular reports of pushbacks from Greece. Türkiye reported that it had rescued 6,000 immigrants left to die by Greece in January to August 2021,[29] and that the Turkish coastguard had caught or rescued 87 out of every 100  migrants using the Aegean Sea in 2021.[30] In interviews, stakeholders confirmed that pushbacks from Greece continue, especially into the Meriç River. IOM and NGOs provide humanitarian aid, particularly during the winter season. One expert said that up to 100 people could attempt to cross the Edirne border a day on busy days. This makes following up on pushback cases and injuries more difficult for lawyers.[31]

It is estimated that around 100 applications against Greece have been lodged with the ECtHR from Türkiye, although due to the lack of communication among attorneys and bar associations, some of the cases have been submitted multiple times by different bars.  In one case, Mülteci-Der saved a child’s life, but his family crossed the border and fled to Greece. Although the boy was relatively young, he was sent to Akyurt (Ankara) removal center because he looked older than his age. Refugees who have been pushed-backed are released from removal centers after a while. The PMM encourages families to apply to the ECtHR against Greece. In one case, PMM reportedly released the families from the removal center to encourage them, and they were registered in provinces where registration was generally closed to registration.[32]

Several stakeholders had met with individuals who had been pushed back. After an uprising in Cuba in July 2021, around 150 Cubans planned to seek asylum in Europe via Türkiye. Their intention was to reach Portugal via Greece, but Greek authorities thought they came from Middle-Eastern countries and pushed them back to Türkiye. One stakeholder interviewed 10 pushed-back Cubans and their stories matched those of Syrians and Afghans. The Cuban nationals were forced to get off the bus, the Greek police said they were lying and looked like Middle Easterners, and the fact that they spoke Spanish meant nothing. The Greek authorities allegedly beat them, and police officers wearing blue berets in a black caravan without a license plate brought them to the border. From there, they were forced to walk barefoot. Many refugees pushed back from Greece tell the same story. It was not possible to register the Cuban asylum seekers in İstanbul. They also hesitated to apply to the Cuban consulate due to political concerns.

Another stakehohlder had met with Afghan nationals who had been pushed-back and who were at the Pehlivanköy removal centre. There were 200-250 Afghans kept in the yard of the removal center with their passports and identity documents. They were taken to and from the border in shuttle vehicles: coming back to the removal center, then being dropped back to the border to try again. Those who crossed the border reported being stripped of their clothes; some got beaten, and others lost their lives. Longoz forests (Edirne) are swampy. People whose trousers and shoes have been taken, in particular, were at risk of serious injury, such as a broken leg or even death. It is also difficult to find/ retrieve the bodies due to the conditions in the swamp.[33]

Another stakeholder reported that 19 refugees lost their lives in the Aegean Sea at the end of December 2021. In this incident, the Greek side carried out the pushback process by stripping the clothes of 19 refugees who froze to death,[34] whilst yet another reported that the type of boat that refugees use to cross the border is a Zodiac. When pushing people back, people are taken off this boat and put on an unsafe, inoperable raft. [35]

The Ombudsman and PDMMs help people file pushback cases against Greece, especially in terms of access to legal aid. [36] In one case, a lawyer was instructed to assist someone who had been pushed back by a removal center to file a complaint against Greece. However, the person was issued a deportation decision from Türkiye. [37] This issue has been highlighted to the Ombudsman, as they were not able to pursue their application. The Ombudsman Institution in Ankara has monitored the pushbacks in İzmir, Aydın, and Van and penned a report that will be launched in 2022. [38]

Stakeholders reported that removal center officials often call lawyers to pressure them to file cases before the ECtHR. Removal centers say that if an appeal is submitted, they will release X or Y refugee. However, they are released without any registration and/or contact information. It is believed that it is PMM policy for PDMMs to encourage complaints before the ECtHR against Greece.

Perhaps because of the difficulties in accessing Greece, one stakeholder reported an increase in irregular migration towards Italy instead of Greece in 2022.

Access to the territory through the Syrian land border is discussed in detail in Temporary Protection: Admission to Territory. However, one stakeholder reported that Afghans and a Yemeni person were pushed back to Syria in late 2021, or early 2022.[39]

 

Access at the airport

Airports in İstanbul (Sabiha Gökçen and İstanbul) 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 İstanbul Airport and access there was 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. [40]

Normally, airports are problematic and individuals cannot submit their international protection applications. Türkiye’s open-door policy ended with the signature of the EU-Türkiye Statement in 2016 and since then very few applications have been accepted at the borders. The practice seems to be to reject them explicitly or implicitly – not processing the applications that are accepted.[41] After the COVID-19 pandemic, people were taken from İstanbul Airports and placed in removal centres. They were then released. This was regarded as a good practice, as asylum seekers could thus enter the country, even if they were subject to an obligation to report regularly in İstanbul.

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 İstanbul. 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 İstanbul. Transferring the obligation to sign in to the city of registration takes a long time due to a lack of communication between PDMMs.[42]

In 2021, it became more difficult to apply for asylum at the airport and many people were reportedly sent back to their country of origin. The conditions worsened in transit zones, even in İstanbul Airport where it used to be better. The airline company that brought the protection seeker to the country covers the food and beverage expenses of that person and meets some basic needs. One stakeholder described the conditions saying people were kept in a place with no windows, no ventilation, and the lights were on 24 hours for nine months, and the only thing they were given to eat was cold airline sandwiches. One person seeking asylum could not stand the conditions and had to return to his country before his case was finalized.[43]

After the application is submitted to PMM, the procedure is managed by the PDMM. According to law, they have to be accepted into the country once the application is received. In İstanbul Airport, people who have applied for international protection can stay for months in rooms provided at the airport. Those whose applications are rejected file a lawsuit against the refusal decision before the administrative court and should remain in the room until the case is concluded. This makes it almost impossible to apply. According to law, an international protection application cannot be made through a proxy. This application cannot be made at the airport due to the physical limits of that area – an area that is very difficult to access. If the applicant needs to apply to the court after receiving an adverse decision, a lawyer, a private or legal aid lawyer, can meet with that person at the border at the airport. The lawyer cannot enter the transit zone, and the applicant cannot enter Türkiye.  Lawyer-client meetings are held next to the police; there is no privacy. The Guardian reported a similar case.[44]

Another stakeholder confirmed that it has become more difficult to get permission from the airport administration for a private interview with clients. The İstanbul Airport administration no longer responded to requests, whereas it used to take less than an hour at Sabiha Gökçen Airport and Atatürk Airport. The  problem had been reported to the PDMM, but there was no change. Even where a lawyer manages to meet the client, it is impossible to submit an international protection application at the airport. In one case the PDMM was requested to accept an application for 5 months. Even if the application is received, the stakeholder reported that applications get rejected in an accelerated procedure.[45]

Again at İstanbul airport, another stakeholder reported that the transit zone was problematic. Permission is needed from the administrative unit at the airport to meet with a client. It can take up to 10 days for permission to be granted. Interviews are held in a publicly accessible space, without any attorney-client privacy. After making the application for international protection, although the person had IP applicant status, he had to stay in the transit zone until his application was finalized. [46]

If the person has arrived with a fake passport, they are taken to a ‘problematic passenger’ room. Communication with PDMMs about asylum requests is not quick. This systemic issue can lead to the extended stay of such persons in the transit zone or problematic passenger room.[47]

In a case from İzmir airport, a 12-year-old Iranian girl who arrived by plane before her family was released but her registration request was not accepted by the PDMM for a long time. After 2 months, her family also came; it took 9 months for her to obtain registration. Manisa Deputies had to assist so that the child could be registered. [48]

In 2021 notary fees were very expensive for refugees, costing 2500-3000 Turkish Lira at the airport (on average 244-293 Euros although exchange rates varied widely in 2021). Interpreting also cost 800 TL (on average 78 Euros). The notary requires an interpreter even if the client knows Turkish.[49]

 

 

 

[1] TRT, ‘Wall set to improve security along Türkiye-Iranian border’, 8 November 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2C0ppDB.

[2] CNN Türkiye, ‘President Erdogan also mentioned: Exactly 1040 kilometers of migration wall,’ 14 August 2021. Available in Turkish, at: https://bit.ly/3GSeMTz.

[3] DW, Türkiye-Iran border wall: Migrants set new routes, 20 August 2021.  Available in Turkish at:

[4] Medyascope, ‘Medyascope opens human smuggling case at the border – illegal crossings continue in Van, although less’. 27 October 2021. Available in Turkish at: https://bit.ly/3tqOgLG

[5] Evrensel, ‘Border wall doesn’t solve migrant issue’, 10 August 2021. Available in Turkish at:   https://bit.ly/3xinerZ                  

[6] For example, see DW, ‘Erdogan: We will block the entrances and exits with the walls we have built on the   borders’, 15 August 2021. Available in Turkish, at: https://bit.ly/3mcSemX.

[7] Daily Sabah, ‘Türkiye, Iran agree to increase border security cooperation’, 21 October 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3xAKJeG.

[8] See e.g. Afghanistan Analysts Network, ‘Mass Deportations of Afghans from Türkiye: Thousands of migrants sent back in a deportation drive’, 21 June 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2lMx4Ni.

[9] Information provided by a stakeholder in March 2019.

[10] PMM, Irregular migration statistics, available at: https://bit.ly/3ng8jbj.

[11] Information from a stakeholder, May 2022.

[12] Open Democracy, ‘Afghans fleeing the Taliban face death, deportation and pushbacks in Türkiye’, 15 July 2021. Available at:  https://bit.ly/3mkdl6W.

[13] Milliyet, ‘Bilmez: Nearly 120,000 immigrants were blocked at the Van border in 2021’, 31 December 2021. Available in Turkish at: https://bit.ly/3aHH3QO.

[14] Yenicag, ‘Statement of illegal immigrants from Van Governorate’, 13 January 2022, available in Turkish at: https://bit.ly/38TMwn2.

[15] Anadolu Agency, ‘The security wall at border prevented illegal crossings from the border’, 31 December 2021. Available in Turkish, at: https://bit.ly/3xg6n9k.

[16] See for example, Gazete Duvar, ‘The number of refugees who froze to death rose to 19,’ 3 February 2022, available in Turkish at: https://bit.ly/39mOmgn; Evrensel, ‘Smugglers in gunfight with the gendarmerie: 2 refugees died,’ 27 June 2021, available in Turkish at: https://bit.ly/3HaO0Ww; Gazete Duvar, ‘Refugees thrown in the Meric River: No progress in the case in the last 2 months,’ 28 October 2021, available in Turkish at: https://bit.ly/3mCS8Fm.

[17] Al-Monitor, Turkish border province has created the country’s largest potter’s field to bury refugees, 13 July 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3wp4Vio.

[18] Medyascope, ‘Medyascope opens human trafficking case at the border (4) – Refugee deaths in Van.’ 2 November 2021. Available in Turkish at: https://bit.ly/3xHoUvz.

[19] Kosar, M. A. Refugees Human Rights Violations in Van. Association of Equity Studies (ECD), September 2021, page 24. Available in English at: https://bit.ly/3Hd7DgO

[20] See for example, the Guardian, ‘Afghan refugees accuse Türkiye of violent illegal pushbacks,’ 14 October 2021, available in English at: https://bit.ly/3tDb3DO; HRW, ‘Türkiye: Soldiers Beat, Push Afghan Asylum Seekers Back to Iran,’ 15 October 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3QqGfzX; Infomigrants, ‘’Few routes to safety for Afghans at risk,’ says Amnesty,’ 21 October 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3xzCMqe.

[21] Information from a stakeholder, May 2022.

[22] Open Democracy, ‘Afghans fleeing the Taliban face death, deportation and pushbacks in Türkiye’, 15 July 2021. Available at:  https://bit.ly/3mkdl6W.

[23] Information from a stakeholder interviewed in April 2022.

[24] Information from a stakeholder interviewed in April 2022.

[25] See for example the Daily Sabah, ‘Türkiye calls on Greece to stop illegal ‘pushbacks’ of migrants’, 27 October 2019, at: https://bit.ly/3bI5Q2p.

[26] 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.

[27] Border Violence Monitoring Network Report, “They Were Told to Keep Their Heads Down”, 17 April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3wR3R7p.

[28] See Daily Sabah, Four asylum-seekers apply to European human rights court for justice against Greek rutality, 16 March 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3ngr4v8.

[29] TRT Haber, ‘Türkiye rescued 6,000 immigrants left to die by Greece’, 15 September 2021. Available in Turkish at: https://bit.ly/3xhHt9o.

[30] Hurriyet, ‘Asylum seekers’ presentation at the Parliamentary Human Rights Commission’, 2 December 2021, available in Turkish, at: https://bit.ly/3znZLai.

[31] Information provided by a stakeholder, May 2022.

[32] Information provided by a stakeholder, May 2022.

[33] Information from a stakeholder, May 2022.

[34] Information from a stakeholder, May 2022.

[35] Information from a stakeholder, May 2022.

[36] Information from a stakeholder, May 2022.

[37] Information from a stakeholder, May 2022.

[38] Information from a stakeholder, May 2022.

[39] Information from a stakeholder, May 2022.

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

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

[42] Information from a stakeholder, March 2021.

[43] Information from a stakeholder, May 2021.

[44] The Guardian, ‘Afghan family trapped in İstanbul airport after fleeing Taliban threats,’ 12 July 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3zXWyif.

[45] Information from a stakeholder, May 2022.

[46] Information from a stakeholder, May 2022.

[47] Information from a stakeholder, May 2022.

[48] Information from a stakeholder, May 2022.

[49] Information provided by a stakeholder, May 2022.

Table of contents

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