A Critique of Turkey's Asylum Policies by the US Committe for Refugees

(from Iranian Refugees At Risk Spring 96/Summer 96)

Barriers to Protection is the first comprehensive critique of Turkey's new refugee machination published by a well-known International organization. The author, Bill Frelick, senior policy analyst, interviewed asylum seekers and met with government and UN High Commissioner for Refugees officials in Turkey in October 1995. The report observes extremely hostile and precarious conditions for non-European asylum seekers in Turkey, particularly Iranian and Iraqis, and designates Turkey as a country with an onerous record of deporting asylum seekers to their countries of origin without a fair and comprehensive asylum determination procedure.
Iranian Refugees' Alliance acknowledges US Committee's valuable effort and hopes that Barriers to Protection expands International advocacy on behalf of thousands of at-risk asylum seekers in Turkey.

To obtain a copy of Barriers to Protection, please contact:
US Committe for Refugees
1717 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Suite 701
Washington, DC 20036
Tel : (202) 347 3507 Fax: (202) 347 3418

Executive Summary

Turkey, whose accession to the 1951 Refugee Convention includes a reservation that excludes non-Europeans from recognition as refugees, promulgated regulations in November 1994 establishing a system for determining whether non-European refugee claimants would even be considered as "asylum seekers" and be given the opportunity to present their claims to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Among other provisions, the new regulations require non-Europeans to file their asylum claims within five days of entering the country, and, for those arriving with improper documents, to file their claims with the police at the location nearest where they entered the country.

In effect, this means that Iranians arriving in major cities such as Ankara or Istanbul after traversing the war zone in southeastern Turkey are required to return to that dangerous area within a very short time period to register their claims with local police officials. Genuine refugees, persons with a well-founded fear of persecution, particularly Iranians and Iraqis, have been denied official recognition as "asylum seekers" by the Turkish authorities often for having failed to meet arbitrary and restrictive filing requirements unrelated to the merits of their claims. In some cases, Turkey has forcibly repatriated bona fide refugees to their countries of origin, despite the intervention of UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations, and in violation of the international legal norm of nonrefoulement. In recommendations, beginning on page 16, the U.S. Committee for Refugees calls upon the Turkish government, inter alia, to drop the time and geographical limits on filing asylum claims, to treat non-Europeans the same as Europeans in its refugee law and practice, and to give greater deference to UNHCR with regard to persons for whom UNHCR expresses concern.