|Turkey's Refugee Machination|
|Fairness & the UNHCR|
|Advocay on behalf of Iranian Asylum Seekers in Turkey|
|Children are Refugees Too|
|Illusary Appeal: The case of UNHCR refugee determination procedure in Turkey|
In November 1994, Turkey announced new regulations to admit non-European
asylum seekers into its territory on a temporary basis. These regulations
gave the government authority to determine refugee claims rather than deferring
the task to the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The
determination procedure designed for this purpose has formally lacked the
most fundamental requirements for a fair determination. Applicants have
no access to legal advice and representation, they are not afforded full
and fair hearings, and are denied the right to an effective appeal of a
negative decision or a deportation order. As the regulations came into full
effect, the government's intention to forcibly return genuine refugees became
all too clear. In Fall 1995, dozens of asylum seekers have been threatened
with deportation, including a group of 5 recognized by the UNHCR and accepted
by third countries for resettlement. In October 1995, pressed by the UNHCR,
the European Commission on Human Rights and international organizations,
Turkish authorities declared the excuse for returning the 5 men as merely
a delay in presenting their application for temporary asylum. While the
delay infraction violated Article 4 of the regulations, whereby asylum seekers
should apply within 5 days to the local authorities or authorities at the
city where they entered the country, the government's attempt to deport
the refugees was a flagrant violation of international law, which proscribes
the return of refugees to a country or territory in which their life or
liberty may be endangered.
The stringent 5-day rule is not the only ruse designed to return refugees to their country of persecution. Recent accounts received from asylum seekers indicate a pattern that for no declared reason, the local police officers designated to register and interview applicants refuse to accept applications for temporary asylum and often coerce applicants to return to their country of origin.
Reports from those who have convinced the local police to accept their applications and receive an interview, suggest that, in effect, decisions are being made by the interviewing police rather than by the Ministry of Interior--which, according to the official regulations, is supposed to determine the claim "in conformity with the 1951 Geneva Convention." As reported, the Ministry's decision is consistent with the opinion of the interviewing police officer recorded in the applicant's file. Police officers, however, lack the necessary knowledge of the proper procedures for interviewing refugees, human rights and refugee issues, nor do they understand the circumstances concerning asylum seekers.
Although the regulations provide an opportunity to make an objection to the deportation verdict to the Ministry of the Interior, the only real hope that exists for revocation of deportation orders is UNHCR's intervention. UNHCR has been under great strain to fulfill its mandate in Turkey to protect people under internationally accepted procedures. In several occasions UNHCR has been powerless to protect refugees from deportation. Neither the regulations nor the practices of the government provides for the agency's exercise of its mandate power to declare an individual a refugee, in spite of an adverse determination by the government. The regulations restrict UNHCR's role to cooperation "primarily on aspects such as giving food and shelter, transport, resettlement, passport and visa problems regarding a third country." In practice, the government has created obstacles to make access for asylum seekers to the UNHCR impratical and even perilous. Asylum seekers can hardly oblige with the 5-day rule to lodge refugee claims if they first lodge a refugee claim with the UNHCR. Once an asylum seeker registers with the local authorities he or she will be kept under surveillance until his or her case is resolved by the Interior Ministry.
Nevertheless, most asylum seekers still approach the UNHCR when they first arrive in Turkey because they are unaware of the new regulations or are afraid to approach the Turkish authorities. While there is no doubt that a portion of asylum seekers benefit from UNHCR's protection, serious concern remains regarding those who are determined by the agency not to be refugees and denied protection. Not only improvements have not been made to correct the shortcomings and flaws that previously existed in the UNHCR Branch Office's determination system, the current procedure includes lesser safeguards and has thus become more error-prone.
Asylum seekers are usually interviewed when they first approach the Office for registration, without adequate notice, or legal counseling or time to prepare themselve. Since this interview is the only opportunity during an asylum seeker's stay in Turkey to present one's claim to the UNHCR, the failure to provide legal advice and assistance at this stage is one that can never be remedied. There is no opportunity to appeal a negative decision nor a mechanism to resolve matters concerning the refugee claim before a decision is reached by the UNHCR. One desperate asylum seeker who registered with the local police in Agri after his interview with the UNHCR could not obtain rudimentary information about his application with the UNHCR. While he was informed by a visiting UNHCR officer that his case was transferred to an officer different from the one who previously interviewed him, for months he has not been able to find his new officer.
Another asylum seeker contacted Iranian Refugees' Alliance upon receiving a negative decision of his case by the UNHCR. He was defenseless and mortified because the local police have been raiding his hotel room to find the UNHCR rejection letter. The indicator for the police seems to be a report from the hotel manager to the police. In Agri, UNHCR pays for hotel expenses of asylum seekers while their cases are under consideration or received positive determinations. Apparently UNHCR had stopped payment for the concerned asylum seeker.
Although it is stated in the new UNHCR rejection form letters that the agency's determination does not affect a person's temporary asylum application with the Turkish authorities (that is a separate procedure), accounts from several other asylum seekers indicate otherwise. Once the Turkish authorities find out about a person's rejection from the UNHCR, they may serve a deportation order. Evidently without UNHCR approval there is little prospect for resettlement in a third country. This seems enough reason for Turkish authorities to decline an application.