Special reception needs of vulnerable groups

Türkiye

Country Report: Special reception needs of vulnerable groups Last updated: 17/08/22

Author

Independent

The “persons with special needs” category includes “unaccompanied minors, handicapped persons, elderly, pregnant women, single parents with minor children, victims of torture, rape and other forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence”.[1]

In addition to the measures set out in Identification, the LFIP makes a number of special provisions regarding the reception services to be extended to “persons with special needs” including unaccompanied children. However, the additional reception measures prescribed by the law are far from sufficient.

 

Reception of unaccompanied children

When it comes to unaccompanied children, Article 66 LFIP orders that the principle of “best interests of the child” shall be observed in all decisions concerning unaccompanied minor applicants. According to the new Article 66(B) LFIP, all children younger than 18 shall be placed in children’s shelters or other premises under the authority of the Ministry of Family and Social Services.[2]

There are different procedures applied for separated children. In Kilis and Mersin, if one of the parents is alive the courts cancel the custody of children first and then appoint a guardian. In Gaziantep, the courts directly appoint a guardian.[3] In Antakya, there is a protocol between the PDDM and the Ministry of Family and Social Policies with regard to the registration of separated children and constitution of their legal relationships with their families. In Antakya in 2019, there were concerns over the custody of unaccompanied and separated children and legal assessments of new guardians not being conducted carefully.[4]

Unaccompanied male children may face difficulties in accessing protection. If the child does not have an identity card, the Child Support Centres (ÇODEM) will help to obtain one. If the child goes directly to a PDMM, he will not obtain an ID card as he must receive a guardianship decision from a court first. However, when children go to court for the appointment of a guardian, judges say that they cannot appoint a guardian because the child is not registered and, therefore, legally does not exist. This creates a vicious circle where children remain in a prolonged state of limbo and further hinders their access to the international protection procedure. Children staying in dormitories get a foreign identification number, not an ID card to access basic services such as education. When they leave the dormitory and reach the age of 18, they can apply for an ID. This is common practice, especially in Çanakkale.

Syrian children in Kilis State Hospital and Adana Balcali Hospital come from camps in the buffer zone due to poor medical infrastructure in the camps. They come alone in an ambulance, with no adult companion to take care of them then return to their camps in an ambulance again. A guardian is not appointed. Their legal representative (their parents)’ consent is not received and they can undergo operations without consent.[5]

There is no clarity in Child Protection Law and its regulation. The law concerning exit procedures for refugee children staying in dormitories is unclear. Children’s settlement is also problematic, and it is traumatizing because they are placed in dormitories by the juvenile police. Police officers often do not know what to do and how to treat children. Practices change from district to district. A more authoritarian attitude is observed in some police units like Fatih. In the Bebek police department, the attitude of the police is more sensitive.[6] In Türkiye, protection measures are taken when a child is placed in an orphanage, but a guardian is not appointed directly, which is problematic. Since the child does not have a legal representative, permission to leave cannot be obtained, even if all the other steps of family reunification are completed. PMM requires a legal representative for the child to leave the orphanage, but it is unclear who will handle the child’s exit process as no guardian has been appointed. In some institutions, this problem is solved by assigning an internal officer for the signature. However, in the orphanages in İstanbul, civil servants do not want to take on this responsibility and even when all other bureaucratic issues related to family reunification have been resolved.[7]

Undocumented foreign citizens cannot travel within the country, especially in Iğdır, Van, and Ağrı (border cities). They cannot buy a bus ticket even if they have been appointed to another city or are staying in a hotel. When they are caught they are sent to removal centres and then pushed backed towards the Iranian border. In Van, those who have a vulnerability are sent to other cities in Türkiye instead, particularly, unaccompanied children. They are often sent with unrelated adults so that the authorities do not need to deal with the administrative burden of unaccompanied children. In Ankara, Van, and Eruzurum, a stakeholder noted that unaccompanied children whose age was around 15-16 had been determined as 18 on paper and other unaccompanied children whose age was below 12-13 were determined as the relative of these older children and were released from child-care facilities. These applications were found just to avoid the administrative burden of unaccompanied children. There were also cases where the wrong name was written for the unaccompanied children and the legal aid was provided based on this wrong name. When the lawyer arrives at the child-care facility, the lawyer cannot see the children as the name written on the lawyer’s appointment letter is different from the child’s real name. Age determination tests are still based on bone tests and psychological tests are not applied at all.[8]

 

Reception of survivors of torture or violence

Gender-based violence against refugee women persists as a risk. In early 2019, an Uzbek woman was raped by a police officer in İstanbul and, as criminal proceedings were pending before the 8th Criminal Court of İstanbul, it was reported by lawyers that the woman was deported due to a violation of visa obligations and was no longer reachable in Uzbekistan to give a power of attorney.[10] Research from 2020 on healthcare for refugees included two women who reported cases of physical and sexual violence. In one case, a Syrian woman said she was sexually assaulted by a hospital janitor at a public hospital in Gaziantep. In the second case, an Afghan woman said that she was beaten by doctors at a public hospital.[11]

In some cases, the history of gender-based violence of female applicants might be used against them by public authorities that possess their private data through personal interviews. Also, according to incidents reported from Eskişehir and Denizli, interpreters who are not generally under oath might leak this type of information within small networks in the satellite cities. It is widely known by NGOs working with women that there are rape and sexual harassment incidents committed by public officers or third parties against single women and victims of gender-based violence.

Victims of gender-based violence are referred to Centres for the Elimination and Monitoring of Violence (Şiddet Önleme ve İzleme Merkezi, ŞÖNİM) which in turn refer them to women’s shelters (kadın konukevi), mostly run by the Ministry of Family and Social Services, municipalities or NGOs.[12] In 2019 there were reports of 145 shelters with a capacity of 3,482 places.[13]

There are now four dedicated facilities for victims of human trafficking: one operated by DGMM for women in Kırıkkale with 12 places, and another shelter for women operated by the municipality of Ankara with 30 places.[14] There is also a shelter for men in Kırıkkale with 40 places and a family shelter with 40 places in Aydın. However, conditions in those centres vary.

Some NGOs, municipalities provide places for short stays in case of emergency (see also Temporary Protection: Vulnerable Groups).

In most cases, the criteria for renewal of residence permits and financial support, long waiting times, and lack of interpreters can leave women and children unregistered. Refugees and returnee women and girls have a right to documentation, including identity papers and travel documents issued in their own names, but this is often not the case in practice since the PMM requires women to produce a certificate proving their status as married/divorced or widowed. Another gender-insensitive approach is that divorced or widowed women must prove that they are divorced or widowed to receive the Türk Kızılay/Red Crescent card. As they cannot obtain their documents from Syria, they cannot benefit from Red Crescent assistance.[15] There have also been reports of a lack of gender sensitivity in PMM interviews.[16]

Access to justice can be particularly challenging for women due to language barriers. They receive notifications from the courts in Turkish, not in Arabic. Syrian women’s cases can be rejected due to a lack of translators in the courts. Women can also be afraid of the justice system and of losing their status and rights.[17] The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the vulnerability of refugee women and girls. During the pandemic, many refugee families lost their livelihoods. The cancellation of social support and social cohesion programs caused the further social isolation of refugee women and exposed them to domestic violence[18]. Women refugees from vulnerable groups such as sex workers face even more acute challenges to accessing health services. They cannot get access to information on sexual health and to health care facilities, HIV testing centres and counselling centres.[19]

Syrian refugees’ mass migration to the provinces next to the Syrian border has resulted in an increased number of child brides and polygamy in Türkiye. To overcome threats posed by prostitution and sexual assault, early marriages and becoming a co-wife (Kuma in Turkish) are considered a means of social protection for refugee women. The rates of early and/or forced marriages, sexual violence, polygamy, unwanted pregnancies, unsafe deliveries, and maternal mortality among Syrian refugees are significantly higher than among Turkish women.[20] As the status of the second wife is not recognised in Turkish Civil Law, in the case of abuse and violence they have difficulties in accessing their legal rights.[21]

In south-eastern Anatolia, the need for women’s shelters is very high. Due to capacity problems, some shelters give priority to women with an assault report or a criminal investigation, which is very difficult for refugee/asylum-seeking women. As a rule, women placed in shelters can stay in the facility for up to six months. If they are lucky enough to find a place in a women’s shelter, they return to the house where they experienced violence at the end of six months. Protection and prevention mechanisms in cases of SGBV/GBV against refugee women in Türkiye do not work effectively.[22]

Asylum-seeking women may be exposed to discrimination on the grounds of gender, especially in terms of benefiting from services. Single refugee women face difficulties in finding a rental house and taking part in social life. At the same time, refugee women may be discriminated against in accessing services and benefiting equally. Some refugee women stated that because they came from the Islamic Republic of Iran, they were considered anti-Islamic, they could not benefit from Social Assistance and Solidarity Foundations and they were subjected to pressure by the local people.[23]

 

Reception of LGBTI persons

LGBTI persons are not mentioned as a category of “persons with special needs” in the LFIP. Nevertheless, their particular situation was taken into consideration in the process of assignment of a “satellite city” in the past.[24] Prior to the termination of the “joint registration” system in September 2018, UNHCR / SGDD-ASAM mainly referred LGBTI persons to specific provinces, where communities were known to be more open and sensitive to this population.

Due to capacity shortages in these provinces in 2018, applicants were directed to more conservative provinces, where they faced greater risks of discrimination.[25] However, in 2019 LGBTI refugees were still being referred to Eskişehir, Denizli and Yalova from Ankara at least. LGBTI ex-minors are also referred to these cities.[26]

In addition, transgender persons who start or are undergoing gender reassignment process may face obstacles in securing treatment due to hospitals’ limited familiarity with this field, as well as restricted financial capacity to afford hormones which are not covered by social security.[32] In general, they consult the nearest research and training public hospitals with medical councils responsible for deciding on medico- legal processes. The very first ruling on the legal recognition of an Iranian trans woman’s application dated 2016 was published on 25 January 2018 and allowed her to proceed to gender reassignment.[33] In another positive decision, the 7th Civil Court of İzmir approved the gender reassignment process of an Iranian refugee.[34] More recently, however, lawyers have witnessed court decisions refusing gender reassignment procedures to transgender refugees in İzmir and Yalova.

In 2021, refugees and especially LGBTI+s refugees continue to experience problems accessing health services, including:

  • Language barriers, lack of translators;
  • Bureaucracy, complex healthcare system and hospital layouts;
  • Behaviour of healthcare professionals, LGBTI+ phobia, discrimination, and racism;
  • Insufficient education about LGBTI+ issues, ignorance of healthcare professionals in the institutions where services are provided;
  • Irregularities in the follow-up of pregnancies, child vaccinations and chronically ill patients;
  • Problems in accessing treatment;
  • High fees demanded of refugee women before and after childbirth;
  • Requiring a pre-intervention fee, not starting the treatment, delaying the treatment;
  • Difficulties in making an appointment during the pandemic process;
  • HIV phobia and stigmatization experienced by refugees living with HIV;
  • Refusals from family health centres (non-admission of unregistered patients in primary care).[35]

Refugees living in Türkiye have the right to gender/sex-reassignment surgery, just like every citizen living in the Republic of Türkiye but must be legally resident under Temporary Protection or International Protection. In the absence of these, the person can start the process with a passport, and if there is no proof of legal stay in Türkiye, the person can start the process with a passport and an official document proving that they are staying in Türkiye legally. In addition to this, the person must be 18 years old and unmarried, either single or divorced.[36] Refugees experience several barriers to accessing this type of service. There is a language barrier if a lawsuit needs to be filed for access. In the absence of an interpreter, the process takes longer and difficulties arise. Secondly, as the process goes forward, the person is transferred to training and research hospitals in big cities. There are travel and accommodation expenses due to traveling to and from these big cities, and these expenses are not covered. During the psychiatric observation period that lasts for six months to two years, there are language barriers and translator difficulties. When hormone therapy starts, unfortunately, the medications costs are not met. The person can be exposed to ill-treatment due to the inexperience of courthouse staff, and unfortunately, the court decision is not positive in many courthouses. Unfortunately, surgeries are very costly. It is close to 15,000 TL in public hospitals, and between 40,000 and 60,000 TL in private hospitals. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provides monthly financial assistance of 750 TL for transgender and intersex refugees. [37]

 

Reception of persons living with HIV

People living with HIV are not explicitly identified as a group having special needs in the LFIP. Few NGOs deal with the needs of this group such as Positive Life in İstanbul and SGDD-ASAM in Ankara. Unfortunately, information on their situation is not well known. The limited training and familiarity of health care institutions with their situation creates obstacles to effective access to health care.[39]

 

 

 

[1] Article 3(1)(l) LFIP.

[2] Law No 7196 amending several acts, 6 December 2019, in Turkish at: http://bit.ly/2TSm0zU.

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

[4] Information provided by a lawyer from the Antakya Bar Association.

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

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

[7] Information provided b a stakeholder, May 2022.

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

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

[10] Birgün, ‘İstanbul’da polis, taksiden indirdiği kadına tecavüz etti’, 20 January 2019, available in Turkish at: https://bit.ly/2U2HuMb; Information provided by a lawyer of the Antalya Bar Association, March 2019.

[11] Barriers to and Facilitators of Migrant Communities’ Access to Health Care in İstanbul, GAR (Association for Migration Research), September 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3wk4nu6.

[12] Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services, Şiddet Önleme ve İzleme Merkezi, available in Turkish at: https://bit.ly/2HLo6fm.

[13] See BBC Türkiye, 25 Kasım Kadına Yönelik Şiddetle Mücadele Günü – Kadınların ağzından sığınma evleri: ‘Sanki suç işlemişiz gibi davranıyorlar’, 25 November 2019, available in Turkish at: https://bbc.in/33S3g7j; See also, NPR, ‘We Don’t Want To Die’: Women In Türkiye Decry Rise In Violence And Killings, 15 September 2019, at: https://n.pr/2WZtP8T.

[14] DGMM, Victims of human trafficking, available at: https://bit.ly/2uFKMpT.

[15] Coşkun, B. B., Women, Peace and Security Agenda and Türkiye’s Refugee and Asylum Policies, April 2021, available in Turkish at: https://bit.ly/3z5ZVCw.

[16] Ibid, page 5.

[17] Ibid, page 5.

[18] Ibid, page 6.

[19] Ibid, page 7.

[20] Ibid, page 7.

[21] Ibid, page 8.

[22] Ibid, page 8.

[23] Diyarbakır Network of Combat with Violence (November, 2021). 25 Kasim Uluslararasi Kadina Yönelik Şiddetle Mücadele Günü Kapsaminda Diyarbakir Şiddetle Mücadele Aği 2021 Yili Raporumuz. https://www.diyarbakirbarosu.org.tr/public/uploads/document/siddet-agi-2021-kasim-raporu-1637840166.pdf, Page 11.

[24] Information provided by a stakeholder, February 2018.

[25] See e.g. Deutsche Welle, ‘Suriyelilerin İstanbul’a kaydı durduruldu’, 6 February 2018, available in Turkish at: http://bit.ly/2sjHtWS.

[26] Information provided by a stakeholder in Ankara, February 2020.

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

[29] Information provided by a stakeholder, March 2018.

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

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

[32] Kaos GL, Waiting to be “safe and sound”: Türkiye as an LGBTI refugees’ way station, July 2016, 39.

[33] 2nd Civil Court of Denizli, Decision 2018/19, 25 January 2018.

[34] 7th Civil Court of İzmir, Decision 2018/370, 9 October 2018.

[35] Kirikci, A., Aydın, E., Celik, S., Sayar, S., Arac, M from Hevi LGBTI, “Right to Health of LGBTI+ Refugees and Discrimination”, April 2021, https://www.stgm.org.tr/sites/default/files/2021-05/multeci-lgbti-saglik-hakki-ve-ayrimcilik-raporu_dijital-1.pdf, Pages 4-5.

[36] Ibid, page 20.

[37] Ibid, pages 20-21.

[39] Information provided by an NGO, February 2019.

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