The updated AIDA Country Report on Turkey offers a comprehensive analysis of legislative, policy and practice developments relating to the asylum procedure, reception conditions, detention of asylum seekers, and content of international protection. The report draws on field visits and information collected from stakeholders and legal practitioners in Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara, Konya, Hatay, Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Kayseri, Afyon, Antalya and Muğla.

Following the inauguration of Turkey’s presidential system in 2018, several changes have been made to the authorities in charge of migration and asylum. The role and responsibilities of the Directorate General for Migration Management (DGMM) have been specified a Presidential Decree.

Moreover, the derogation from the principle of non-refoulement for reasons such as public order, security and terrorism, introduced by way of emergency decree in October 2016, was consolidated by law in February 2018. Removal decisions against Syrian and non-Syrian nationals have increasingly been used on these grounds in 2018. The Constitutional Court delivered a pilot judgment in the case of Y.T., on 12 June 2018, launching the pilot procedure to examine whether requests for interim measures it has received stem from a structural problem to protection from refoulement and, if so, what measures can be taken. From the entry into force of the decree until June 2018, the Constitutional Court had received 866 individual applications with requests for interim measures against deportation. Of those, the Court granted interim measures in 784 cases. The Constitutional Court has continued to grant interim measures to prevent deportation of persons in cases involving public order or security, although these were often valid only for several days.

International protection: Access to the international protection procedure has changed substantially in 2018, as UNHCR announced on 10 September 2018 the termination of its registration activities in Turkey. In practice, however, the takeover of the process by DGMM in September 2018 has resulted in severe obstacles to accessing the international protection procedure. Several provinces refuse to register applications, while others face severe delays. While nationals of countries other than Afghanistan are instructed to appear before the PDMM in 6 to 9 months with a view to undergoing registration, the earliest registration appointments given to Afghan nationals are for 2021.

Moreover, following an October 2018 reform, DGMM no longer issues a Registration Document when directing the asylum seeker to the assigned “satellite city” with a view to registering the international protection application. The applicant only receives an International Protection Applicant Identification Card after having registered the application at the appointed province. This means that asylum seekers are required 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 and deprivation of essential rights such as health care.

Under the legal aid project implemented by the Union of Bar Associations in Turkey in collaboration with UNHCR, free legal assistance is available to asylum seekers in 18 pilot provinces at all stages of the international protection procedure, detention, as well as civil law matters. The first Refugee Law Clinic has also been set up in Şanlıurfa. The project aims to expand to more provinces and set up more Refugee Law Clinics in its second phase.

Detention capacity almost doubled in the course of 2018 to a total of 24 active Removal Centres accommodating 16,116 persons. However, several venues such as sports halls have unofficially been used as detention facilities in provinces such as Erzurum, Izmir and Hatay.

Several Removal Centres have introduced a further requirement for lawyers seeking to access the facilities in 2018, as they now require the presence of interpreters under oath for meetings with clients.

Temporary protection: In 2018, large provinces such as Istanbul, Hatay and Mardin have de facto stopped registering and granting documents to newly arriving Syrian refugees, with the exception of vulnerable cases.

The Minister of Justice recently stated that 315,000 Syrian nationals have left Turkey to return to their country of origin and that more are expected to return as safe zones are being established in the country. Concerns have been expressed as to the voluntary nature of some returns, however. In 2018, UNHCR continued to monitor voluntary returns and observed the voluntary repatriation interviews of 10,395 families. In addition, a DGMM Circular of 7 January 2019 clarifying 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.

Following a 2018 amendment to the Temporary Protection Regulation, responsibility for accommodation and other services provided to temporary protection beneficiaries lies with DGMM. The number of temporary accommodation centres has been steadily reducing. Six camps were closed down in 2018, with most residents being granted cash assistance to find apartments in urban areas.

In mid-2018, the Ministry of National Education launched an Accelerated Learning Programme to reach children aged 10-18 who have missed three or more years of schooling. The programme had reached 6,600 children by the end of 2018. Moreover, the number of Temporary Education Centres continues to drop, and it is expected that they will be closed down by the end of 2019.

*This information was first published by AIDA managed by ECRE

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.