Recent Reports Designate Turkey an "Unsafe Third Country"

(from Iranian Refugees At Risk Winter97/Spring 98)

The " safe third countr " notion is an important factor in today's European asylum policy. The basic element of this doctrine is to deny an asylum seeker access to a substantial refugee status determination procedure in a particular State, on grounds that s/he had already found protection, or could reasonably have been expected to find protection in another country.

Turkey adopted asylum regulations in 1994. Since then, some European countries have used the existence of formal regulations in Turkey as an excuse to refuse entry, or access to normal asylum procedures, to Iranians who pass through Turkey .

Other countries which do not yet practice safe third country rules, have occasionally considered the Iranian asylum seekers refusal to apply for asylum in Turkey on their way, as an unacceptable delay in applying for asylum, and as conduct that is inconsistent with a well-founded-fear of persecution.

In reality, however, the protection of Iranian asylum seekers in Turkey has deteriorated since the establishment of formal regulations. Both the letter of the regulations and its inflexible implementation, as well as a series of other arbitrary practices by Turkish officials, have made Turkey an unsafe country of asylum for Iranians.

The following reports by two international organizations validate the fear of Iranians who, despite having the opportunity to apply for temporary asylum in Turkey, refuse to do so, and, instead, move on to other countries.

TURKEY: Refoulement of Refugees -
A Protection Crisis
Amnesty International, September 1997

In this report Amnesty International states its grave concerns about the state of protection for asylum-seekers of non-European origin in Turkey. Despite its influential status as a member of the Executive Committee of the UNHCR and its commitment to refugee protection as a party to the Refugee Convention, Turkey has consistently failed to abide by the most fundamental principle of refugee protection nonrefoulement. This principle forbids the return of a person to a country where s/he would be at risk of persecution.

The new Turkish asylum regulations, especially the five day rule, is criticized. According to this rule, persons wishing to seek asylum are required to approach the authorities within five days of arriving in the country. Those who enter the country illegally and who, for whatever reason, fail to comply with this requirement, are liable to immediate deportation without any consideration of their asylum claims.

Amnesty highlights cases, even some who were recognized by the Turkey Branch of the UNHCR as refugees, but were detained by the Turkish authorities and sent back to their country of origin despite interventions and protests by the UNHCR. Many cases of Iranians who were refouled to Iran, as well as those who were deported to Northern-Iraq after succeeding to access and receive resettlement assistance from the UNHCR in Turkey, are noted.

The report would have provided a more realistic picture of the precarious situation of asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey, had Amnesty also investigated and reported the large number of refoulements involving ex-Northern-Iraq refugees who were summarily deported in 1996-1997 and were not allowed to access the asylum procedures. The report makes several sound and urgent recommendations to the Turkish Government to improve its asylum procedures. In addition, Amnesty International asks other states to refrain from returning asylum-seekers to Turkey on the basis of "safe third country".

TURKEY: Refoulement of refugees - A Protection Crisis, September 1997, AI Index: EUR 44/31/97 can be obtained from Amnestys Secretariate (1 Easton St., London, WC1X 8DJ, UK, Tel: 44-171-413-5500 Fax: 44-171-956-1157) or from Amnesty's Offices in your country. An electronic version is available at:

Safe Third Country Policies in European Countries
Danish RefugeeCouncil, November 1997

The Country profiles section of this report intends to provide a picture of each European State as both a rejecting and receiving refugee country on the safe third country ground. Since Turkeys asylum regulations do not contain any safe third country provisions, the report concentrates on Turkey as a receiving country.

The report notes three of the most restrictive rules practiced since the 1994 regulations became effective: the 5 day rule to submit applications for asylum, the geographical limitation for undocumented asylum seekers to apply to governorate of the province where they entered the country, and the requirement, announced in May 1995, that asylum seekers must present an identity document in order to have their claims reviewed. Failure to comply with any of the above results in deportation without an asylum hearing.

Many asylum seekers have been refouled due to the inflexible implementation of these instructions. Confirmed incidents of refoulement of UNHCR-recognized Iranian refugees in 1995 amounted to more than the previous three years together.

Other noted problems include 1-the local officials ignorance of the procedure and of the basic principles for the protection of refugees, 2-the authorities lack of co-ordination, and, most importantly, 3- a practice of preventing access to asylum procedures by summary rejections at admission points (borders and airports).

Since the Asylum Regulation was put into effect, some 3,000 asylum seekers chose not to approach the authorities at all, and only registered with the UNHCR.

The report notes that it is not surprising that many are afraid to attempt to register an application with the authorities, considering the many instances of deportation and refoulement rumored amongst the asylum seekers coming to Turkey.

Safe Third Country Policies in European Countries, Editors: Nina Lassen and Jane Hughes, November 1997, ISBN 87-7710-265-7 can be obtained from the Danish Refugee Council (Borgergade 10, P.O. Box 53, DK-1002 Copenhagen Denmark, Tel: 45-33735000, Fax: 45- 33328448) . An electronic version of the report is available at: