Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 12:06 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Turkey

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1999
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Turkey , 1 January 1999, available at: [accessed 15 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

It was nearly impossible to estimate accurately the number of refugees and internally displaced persons in Turkey in 1998. Either because they were ineligible to meet procedural requirements, or because they sensed the authorities' hostility, many would-be asylum seekers apparently chose to remain in hiding rather than come forward with refugee claims. Therefore, the 1,432 persons the Turkish government recognized as asylum seekers in 1998 were likely only a fraction of the persons in Turkey with a well-founded fear of persecution in their homelands. During the year, 4,340 persons registered asylum claims with the Turkish police, of whom 97 percent came from two countries, Iran and Iraq. The approval rate for cases interviewed in 1998 was 72 percent. At year's end, 3,862 cases were pending, of whom 61 percent were Iraqis and 29 percent were Iranian.

UNHCR runs a parallel refugee determination procedure. In 1998, 6,838 persons registered 3,648 refugee claims with UNHCR. Of these cases, 2,350 were Iraqis and 1,169 Iranians, together comprising 96 percent of the caseload. In contrast, in 1997, 4,448 persons registered 2,104 refugee claims with UNHCR, showing a 54 percent increase in claims from 1997 to 1998. UNHCR attributed the increase, in part, to a more regular and visible UNHCR presence in towns near the Iranian and Iraqi borders. Of the cases UNHCR decided in 1998, it recognized 891 as refugees (representing 2,230 individuals).

A total of 1,629 refugees were resettled from Turkey to third countries in 1998, an increase from the 1,556 resettled in 1997. The leading receiving countries were Canada (340), Australia (326), the United States (268), and Norway (268). As of October 31, 1998, 1,765 refugees were waiting for resettlement offers or processing, of whom 1,054 were Iraqis and 658 Iranian.

Turkey was the country of origin for nearly 21,750 asylum applications filed throughout the world in 1998, according to UNHCR, of whom 5,360 were granted asylum or humanitarian status. At year's end, 4,967 cases of asylum seekers from Turkey were pending.

Although the numbers are in dispute, hundreds of thousands of Kurds remained internally displaced in 1998 because the low-intensity conflict between Turkish military and security forces and the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) in southeastern Turkey.

Internal Displacement

In June, a Turkish Parliamentary Migration Commission reported that since evacuations became widespread in 1993 and 1994, 401,328 people had been forced to migrate from 3,428 residential areas, of which 905 were villages and 2,523 were hamlets. Of these, 517 villages and 1,614 hamlets were evacuated in the State of Emergency region, resulting in the displacement of 251,366 persons.

Another 126,969 persons were displaced outside the State of Emergency region, having been evacuated from 303 villages and 2,345 hamlets. According to the report, 22,993 of these displaced persons had returned to their places of origin, 6 percent of the total, leaving 378,335 displaced at the time of the report. This figure comprised only persons displaced because of village and hamlet evacuations. As such, it did not include people who fled from towns or cities in the southeast, or villagers who felt compelled to flee, for example, because of conflict with village guards in their village, even if the village itself was not evacuated. Therefore, the figure based solely on evacuations must be regarded as the baseline for an estimate of the number of internally displaced persons in Turkey.

Estimates of displaced people vary widely. At one end of the spectrum, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official meeting with USCR in Ankara in September said that there were no internally displaced people in Turkey. At the other end of the spectrum, the Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD) put the number of displaced persons at three million. In its human rights reports for both 1996 and 1997, the U.S. Department of State cited a Turkish member of parliament's estimate of 560,000 internally displaced persons as "credible."

Internal displacement because of conflict and fear is part of a larger migratory phenomenon in Turkey as urban populations have grown dramatically throughout the country in recent years. For example, the population of Diyarbakir, the largest city in the southeast, swelled from about 400,000 in 1990 to about 1.5 million in 1998.

Most Turkish cities have developed impoverished, overcrowded, ramshackle slums on their outskirts, gecekondu, "huts built in one night." Many of the displaced Kurds in provincial cities and towns crowd into homes of relatives, sometimes with more than thirty people residing in dwellings intended for a single family.

Many migrants have a mix of political and economic motives, and migrated due to varying degrees of coercion and choice. Undoubtedly, economic factors account for much of the urbanization. Nevertheless, some portion of economic migrants could be considered to be forcibly displaced by the economic disruption in southeastern Turkey stemming from the 14-year conflict.

Rural to urban movement has often been the first step in a migratory pattern that has taken large numbers of Kurds from the east to the west. Observers frequently estimate that half of Istanbul's population – in western Turkey – is of Kurdish origin. Much of that migration is decades old.

Although some forced migration has resulted from people fleeing PKK threats and violence, the Turkish military has systematically expelled Kurdish villagers in the country's southeast, particularly between 1993 and 1995. The Turkish army's campaign to evacuate villages suspected of supporting the PKK has depopulated mountainous, rural areas, and pushed the village populations into urban centers, creating economic hardship for large numbers of displaced persons, most of whom had been herders or otherwise tied to the pastoral economy.

New displacement seemed to decline in 1998, partly because of the major displacement that has already occurred in the southeast and because the fighting has moved into more remote, mountainous areas and across the border into northern Iraq. Evacuations from previous years have left many hamlets and villages in conflict areas empty, including border regions with Iraq, Iran, and Armenia. In most cases, only village guards and their families live in villages close to these borders.

Some of the nearly 23,000 internally displaced people who have returned to their places of origin have done so in response to government sponsored resettlement projects. According to the report of the Parliamentary Commission, 5,524 homes have been built in the southeast to accommodate returnees.

Although Turkey lifted the state of emergency in all but six provinces (Diyarbakir, Hakkari, Siirt, Sirnak, Tunceli, and Van), in November 1998, the parliament again extended the state of emergency in those provinces for at least another four months. In May, Turkish forces launched a major operation in the mountains north of Diyarbakir, although no resulting civilian displacement was reported.

Although both Turkish officials and local observers insist that freedom of movement exists within Turkey, the tensions caused by massive internal migration have created some sentiment for restricting internal movement. In August 1998, Istanbul mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Istanbul should issue entrance visas to residents to keep out unwanted migrants. He cited increased illegal construction in the city's shantytowns as one problem associated with the "artificial" population growth of Istanbul. "What I am talking about is not like the visas in international passports," said Erdogan, "but controlling entrance to the city through a travel document."

Other mayors and governors have denied entry or summarily expelled internal migrants. In July 1997, local officials in Van reportedly pushed back 270 people from Doganli village in Hakkari Province, the scene of intense conflict. Officials reportedly put them on buses and sent them back. Hurriyet, a Turkish daily newspaper, quoted an official from Van as saying, "Our population has increased to 600,000 from 153,000 due to the [internal] immigrants. We do not want any more trouble."

In August 1998, Kemal Yazicioglu, the governor of Ordu on the Black Sea coast, reportedly deported hundreds of Kurdish migrants and refused entry to hundreds more. "Security troops are sending away truckloads of these workers at the [provincial] border," a regional official said. He added, "The governor has banned all outside laborers because of concern that some workers could be members of the separatist organization," a reference to the PKK.

Asylum Procedures

Turkish asylum procedures in 1998 were based on a November 1994 regulation, Decision Number 94/6169, that required non-European, undocumented asylum seekers to present themselves to the police within five days of arrival in the province where they entered the country. The regulations instructed local police near the borders to conduct interviews to determine if refugee claimants should be recognized officially as asylum seekers.

Because Turkey retains the geographic limitation of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention to "events occurring in Europe," it refuses to recognize non-Europeans as refugees. Therefore, the 1994 regulations took a convoluted approach to defining the terms "refugee" and "asylum seeker." Normally, an asylum seeker is considered to be a person claiming to be a refugee whose status has not yet been determined by an adjudicator. However, according to the Turkish regulations, the distinguishing feature between a refugee and an asylum seeker is whether or not the person in question is of European origin.

According to the Turkish definition, an asylum seeker, no less than a refugee, is a person whom Turkish authorities have found to have a well founded fear of being persecuted according to the criteria adopted from the refugee definition in the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol. However, that Turkish authorities recognize a foreigner as an asylum seeker does not carry with it a guarantee against refoulement. Essentially, recognition only results in a temporary residence permit that enables the refugee to seek third country resettlement.

Generally, undocumented, non-European asylum seekers first present themselves to UNHCR offices in Ankara or border areas, where UNHCR interviews them, gives them a letter saying that they are asylum seekers on their way to lodge an asylum application with the Turkish authorities, and directs them to go to the police in the province where they entered the country. It is rare that asylum seekers only register with the police and do not first present themselves to UNHCR; such cases are limited to Europeans and Turkomans.

When the asylum seeker arrives at a police station, the formal asylum procedure begins. Local police conduct the asylum interviews but do not make a status determination. They send the file to the Ministry of Interior in Ankara, where it is reviewed and passed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs then asks UNHCR its opinion on the claim. (UNHCR does not actually see the police file; nor is UNHCR present during the police interviews.) The Ministry of Foreign Affairs then makes a recommendation to the Ministry of Interior, which informs the police whether the claim has been granted or denied. If granted, the recognized non-European "asylum seeker" is given a six month residence permit, sent to a satellite city, and directed to UNHCR to be considered for UNHCR recognition (if not already recognized) and third country resettlement. If denied, the applicant has 15 days to appeal the decision or leave the country. This is an administrative appeal directed to the same authorities.

In practice, because UNHCR and the Turkish authorities rarely disagree on refugee recognition and because the Turkish authorities appear to give weight to UNHCR opinions, the closest examination of the appeal occurs on the UNHCR side. In effect, this creates a procedure within the procedure: asylum seekers not recognized as refugees in the first instance by UNHCR are rejected by the Turkish authorities as well, and not only appeal formally with the Turkish officials, but appeal UNHCR's decision as well.

Generally, UNHCR completes its first-instance decisions in about one week, but decisions can take up to three months, depending on the complexity of the case and workload at the time. Rejected applicants have one month to appeal UNHCR's decision, unless the case is determined to be manifestly unfounded after a first- instance interview, in which case there is no right of appeal. Rejections based on lack of credibility are interviewed a second time by a new legal officer. Sometimes, cases are reopened based on the introduction of new factual elements supporting the claim. Generally, UNHCR decides the second appeal within three months. In 1998, UNHCR recognized 131 of 734 cases on appeal, an approval rate of 18 percent.

Some asylum seekers who have been interviewed by Turkish police in the border towns have complained that police interviewers place more emphasis on determining how they managed to enter the country and other security matters than on the grounds for the refugee claim. Some asylum seekers have also alleged that they were subjected to body searches during the course of these interviews in search of false passports. They have also told NGO staff that the interpreters used in the police interviews are often incompetent. In 1998, UNHCR was engaged in training workshops with Turkish police and other officials involved in the asylum procedure. USCR was in the country during one such workshop, and found Turkish police officials to be open and receptive to the training programs.

Iranian asylum seekers entering Turkey in Hakkari Province have also complained of being sent back and forth between Van and Hakkari, and some have reportedly been deported for failure to meet the filing deadline, despite having attempted to file claims within the five-day limit. Despite the problems in the border region, UNHCR reports that about two-thirds of the asylum seekers who first presented themselves to UNHCR in Ankara during the first eight months of 1998 and were directed to go back to file their claims at border police stations did so. This showed an improvement over 1997, when about half of those directed to return to border areas did so.

Turkish courts have intervened in several cases involving asylum seekers who failed to meet the five-day filing deadline, and have enjoined the police not to remove those persons. In one case, the Ankara Regional Administrative Court suspended the deportation of a UNHCR-recognized refugee, ruling that the five-day limit on filing asylum claims could not bar a refugee claim from being considered. In another case involving a UNHCR-recognized refugee facing deportation for his illegal status, the Ankara Regional Administrative Court suspended deportation on humanitarian grounds and urged the government not to deport refugees with offers of third-country resettlement. The Ministry of Interior appealed one case to the Council of State, but did not appeal three other decisions favorable to the asylum seekers that challenged the five-day limit.

The 1994 regulations did not include a "grandfather" clause for undocumented aliens who had been residing in the country before the regulations went into effect and who could not possibly meet the five-day filing deadline. In 1997, the Turkish authorities agreed to a "one-time solution" for a list of 3,330 non-European refugees and asylum seekers who had not met the procedural requirements of the asylum regulations. The government said that it would issue exit permits to those recognized as refugees by both UNHCR and Turkey and would allow such persons to seek third-country resettlement. The government said that beneficiaries of the one-time solution would be able to register with police in the areas where they were residing, and would not be deported if they followed the rules, were recognized by UNHCR, and were offered a resettlement place by a third country.

At the end of October 1998, only 980 persons, less than a third of the people on the master list, had registered with the Turkish authorities. Of these, 897 departed for third-country resettlement, and 83 cases were pending. Of the remainder, 1,778 were either rejected as refugees by UNHCR or were "no-shows" for their interview, 12 Iranians were deported, and 1 person became a Turkish national. The Turkish authorities refused to register 216 persons because they were neither Iranian nor Iraqi (most were Afghans), as the authorities decided to limit the one time solution to those two nationalities. The remaining 343 persons are assumed to have left Turkey on their own.

Although the one-time solution improved the situation for some of the longer term Iranian and Iraqi cases, it did not resolve the problem of persons recognized by UNHCR as refugees but not recognized by the Turkish authorities. At year's end, there were about 100 UNHCR-mandate recognized refugees in Turkey whom the government did not recognize as refugees. UNHCR could not recommend these refugees for third-country resettlement because they lacked exit permits. In some cases, resettlement countries, such as Canada, had offered to resettle refugees unrecognized by the government, but the government refused to give them exit permits.

(On January 13, 1999, the 1994 asylum regulations were amended, extending from five days to ten the deadline for registering asylum claims with the authorities after arriving in the country. The amendment let stand the requirement that undocumented asylum seekers register their claims in the governorate of the province where they entered the country. The amendment also introduced a right to appeal.)

Apprehensions, Deportations, Refoulement

UNHCR has noted a steady decline in the number of recorded cases of refoulement of Iranian and Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers from Turkey since 1994. UNHCR documented 64 cases of refoulement in 1998. In contrast, UNHCR documented 81 cases of refoulement in all of 1997, and 139 cases in 1996. The 64 cases in 1998 included 15 UNHCR-recognized refugees (8 Iranians and 7 Iraqis) and 49 asylum seekers whose cases had not yet been decided. In most cases, the refoulement occurred because the refugee or asylum seeker had failed to meet Turkey's procedural requirements for filing claims, usually not having registered with the police within five days of arrival at the closest provincial entry point.

Throughout the year, Turkish border authorities apprehended, detained, and deported foreigners attempting to transit Turkey to Greece and other European countries. In 1998, Turkish authorities apprehended 10,159 undocumented foreigners in the northwestern province of Edirne bordering Greece and Bulgaria. An interior ministry official told USCR that none of the people apprehended expressed an interest in seeking asylum. Turkey enlisted the services of its coast guard to apprehend would-be emigrants, bringing them back to Turkey to be detained and deported.

The Turkish press frequently reported apprehensions of foreigners attempting to cross the Meric River (Evros in Greek) marking the Greek Turkish border, and interdicting vessels in the Aegean Sea bound for the Greek islands. According to Turkish officials, most of those arrested attempting to cross the northwestern border were Iraqi Kurds, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Iranians, Afghans, and Sudanese.

Turkey's crackdown on third-country migrants corresponded to the European reaction to the 1998 New Year's week apprehensions in Italy of two boatloads filled with about 1,200 (mostly) Kurds from Iraq and Turkey. After Italy's president and prime minister both said that Italy would welcome Kurdish asylum seekers, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem sent a letter to his Italian counterpart saying, "The current problem is a blatant case of illegal trafficking in human beings, an extremely serious form of organized crime. To present this basic fact as a romanticized human rights problem distorts reality and encourages those who organize illegal immigration." The letter went on to chastise Western European countries for their "complacent attitude" toward "terror related activities." For its part, the foreign minister said that Turkey would be "taking all necessary measures to stem illegal immigration through or from its territory."

Other EU countries criticized Italy, and called upon Turkey to redouble its efforts to deter the migration of Iraqi Kurds. In response, Turkey stepped up its coast guard and border patrols along the Meric River bordering Greece and along the Aegean Sea coast.

In early January 1998, Turkish police rounded up thousands of undocumented aliens, apprehending between 1,000 to 3,000 in and near Istanbul. The authorities bused Iraqi nationals to the border near Silopi, and about 800 Iraqis were deported via the Habur Gate in January 1998. It appeared that none of them was given the opportunity to register an asylum claim before being deported.

On January 9, USCR wrote to the Turkish government, saying, "While we do not question your right to apprehend undocumented aliens in your country, we would ask that they be accorded full rights to hearings on any possible asylum claims they might have."

In April, the Turkish gendarmerie, which guards the border, reportedly detained and expelled 66 Afghans attempting to cross from Iran. The press report of the expulsion gave no indication that any of the Afghans had been apprised of their right to seek asylum in Turkey. In September, USCR met with a local police official in Van who said that when the gendarmerie apprehends foreigners in the two-kilometer zone separating Iran and Turkey, they have discretion to send them back to Iran without a court hearing. However, he said that foreigners apprehended by the gendarmerie inside Turkish territory are brought before a judge for violation of Turkey's strict passport law. If a judge orders an undocumented Iranian deported, the person is taken to the border by the police, who turn him or her over to the Iranian police on the other side.

During USCR's September 1998 visit to Van, the gendarmerie apprehended a group of five Iranian Baha'is whom a judge had ordered deported. UNHCR found out about the case, and was able to intervene with the judge, who agreed to suspend the deportation while he considered Turkey's obligations under international law. As is frequently the case among judges serving in border regions, this judge had just arrived on rotation, and was unfamiliar with laws and regulations regarding refugees and asylum.

During the same visit, the gendarmerie arrested a group of 26 Iraqis in Van. They were bused back to Silopi and deported, despite UNHCR efforts to intervene on their behalf. The police informed UNHCR that the Iraqis had not requested asylum, but UNHCR had no access to the group to make an independent assessment. The Van police official told USCR that Iran refuses to accept back Iraqis who enter via Iran (mostly PUK members who are afraid to pass through KDP-controlled northern Iraq, which borders Turkey), and that the police therefore take such Iraqis to the Habur Gate, where they are sent back to KDP-controlled northern Iraq. The police official noted that the distance between Van and the Habur Gate is great and that the costs of this transport are significant.


Most non-European refugees and asylum seekers in Turkey are concentrated in three areas: Ankara and its satellite towns; Silopi, on the border with Iraq; and Agri, near the Iranian border. Those staying in and around Ankara live in the gecekondu slums, described above, where many internally displaced persons also live in impoverished conditions. Generally, refugees who are recognized as such both by UNHCR and the government are permitted to reside in the satellite cities pending their resettlement. In general, they live in hotels. Some, who are in need of more secure protection in Turkey, are sheltered in a guest house in Yozgut. UNHCR has established field offices in both Silopi (since 1991) and Agri (since mid-1995). Refugees in Silopi generally reside in mud-brick houses without electricity or running water with only minimum humanitarian aid. Until 1998, the refugees in Agri resided together in a hotel provided by UNHCR. When it was discovered that the hotel owner was extorting money from refugees, UNHCR moved them out of the hotel and provided them allowances to seek their own flats in the town.


As with other migration statistics in Turkey, the number of Iranians living in the country is a matter of wide speculation. Only a fraction of the Iranians in the country have ever approached the UNHCR office or the Turkish authorities for recognition as refugees.

In 1998, 1,503 Iranians approached the Turkish authorities seeking recognition as asylum seekers. Turkey recognized 550 Iranians as asylum seekers during the year, an 87 percent approval rate of cases decided. Turkey provided temporary residence permits to recognized asylum seekers with the expectation that they would seek refugee determination interviews and third-country resettlement with UNHCR; 79 individuals were rejected and notified to leave the country.

During the year, 1,169 Iranians registered with UNHCR in Turkey. UNHCR recognized 471 cases at a 49 percent approval rate for cases decided. Within the Iranian caseload, Baha'is had an 85 percent refugee recognition rate. At year's end, 1,104 Iranian asylum cases were pending with UNHCR.

Also during the year, 822 Iranian refugees were resettled in third countries with UNHCR's assistance, a 9 percent decrease from the number of Iranians resettled in 1997. The two countries accepting the most were Australia and Canada.

UNHCR discourages what it terms "irregular movers," Iranians who transit through Iraq before seeking asylum in Turkey, arguing that they ought to have sought refugee recognition and protection from UNHCR offices situated in Iraq. Although UNHCR might recognize Iranian irregular movers as refugees, it declines to provide them assistance or to refer them to third countries for resettlement. (Although most commonly applied to Iranians, the irregular mover policy is sometimes applied to Afghans and Africans as well.) Because of UNHCR's policy on irregular movers, and also because of increasing control of the northern Iraq border region by the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), fewer Iranians appeared to cross into Turkey via Iraq, and consequently fewer Iranians were deported to northern Iraq in 1998 than in previous years.

On January 22, 1998, USCR wrote to the Turkish authorities about the imminent deportation of an Iranian Baha'i, expressing its concern that he had a well-founded fear of persecution in Iran.


The Turkish authorities openly plan for preventing mass influxes from Iraq. In fact, the 1994 asylum regulation includes a provision stating that "it is essential to stop such a movement and the advance of asylum seekers at the border." This concern is based on two mass forced migrations in recent memory: the influx of about 60,000 Iraqi Kurds in 1988 and the arrival on the Turkish border of about 450,000 in 1991.

In early February 1998, when U.S. airstrikes in Iraq appeared to be imminent, the Turkish press and television reported that 50,000 Turkish troops crossed the border to create a cordon to prevent a mass influx of Iraqi refugees. The troops reportedly crossed the Habur Bridge and took up positions along the Hezil River, as well as other points in northern Iraq and along the border. However, the Turkish government denied that its troops had crossed the border; it nevertheless announced that would-be Iraqi refugees would be held in northern Iraq and not permitted to cross into Turkey. Chief of the General Staff Husnu Dag said, "In case of a massive wave of refugees, a humanitarian support program will be implemented in northern Iraq in coordination with the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP), and gathering places will be arranged for refugees for humanitarian aid."

Turkey closed its border with Iraq again in December, when U.S. and British forces unleashed airstrikes on Iraq.

In part because of its fears about mass influxes, Turkey has historically been reluctant to provide individual refugee status determination and asylum for Iraqis. This is reflected in Turkey being one of the last countries to retain the European geographical limitation to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Since the 1991 creation of a "safe haven zone" in northern Iraq, however precarious its safety has been since that time, Turkish authorities have generally presumed that northern Iraq is safe for Iraqi Kurds and that they can be returned there without fear of persecution.

During 1998, 2,790 Iraqis applied for asylum with the Turkish authorities. Turkey recognized 880 as asylum seekers and rejected 467, an approval rate of 65 percent. Those who were recognized were provided with temporary resident permits with the expectation that they would seek third-country resettlement through UNHCR; those who were rejected were told to leave the country within 15 days with the chance to appeal during that time.

In 1998, 2,350 Iraqis approached the UNHCR office seeking recognition as refugees. In the first ten months of the year, 70 percent of the cases appearing at UNHCR offices were Iraqis. UNHCR recognized 396 Iraqi cases, for a 29 percent approval rate of cases decided. At year's end, 2,362 Iraqi asylum cases were pending with UNHCR. A total of 765 Iraqis were resettled in third countries with UNHCR's assistance. The countries accepting the most were Norway and Canada. UNHCR has had some difficulty finding other third countries willing to resettle Iraqi refugees. For example, in its July mission to Turkey, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service approved only 23 percent of the Iraqi refugees that UNHCR referred for U.S. resettlement. Before making referrals to the U.S. resettlement program, UNHCR makes a refugee status determination and screens further to meet U.S. resettlement criteria.

An amendment to Turkey's Law on Residence and Travel of Foreign Subjects in April 1998 allowed foreigners with expired Turkish visas to apply for residence permits. The measure appeared to be aimed primarily at Iraqi Turkomans with expired visas. At year's end, it was not clear how many people had been able to legalize their stays.

No Iraqi refugees were known to have voluntarily repatriated to government-controlled Iraq in 1998, although 55 Iraqis did return to northern Iraq with UNHCR's assistance. However, because the Iraqi government insisted that all repatriation occur through government controls, in mid-year UNHCR stopped facilitating voluntary returns to northern Iraq.

During the year, a total of seven UNHCRrecognized Iraqi refugees were forcibly returned. Although a nationality breakdown was not available, 49 asylum seekers were also forcibly returned during the year.

Bosnian Refugees

As Europeans, Bosnians in Turkey are not handicapped by the geographical limitation to Turkey's accession to the 1951 Refugee Convention, and can, in principle, be accepted as refugees. In practice, however, Turkey's response to the 18,000 Bosnians who sought refuge on its territory was to extend a form of temporary protection on a par with the temporary protection schemes elsewhere in Europe. Bosnians were regarded as "guests" without permanent status. Many Bosnian refugees opted to repatriate or to move on to third countries. By year's end, only about 2,000 remained in Turkey, of whom about 200, mostly Muslims originating from Republika Srpska, were residing in the Kirklareli camp near the Bulgarian border, and another 1,700 were registered at the Bosnian dispensary, a health clinic in Istanbul.

From late 1996, when a joint UNHCR/IOM voluntary repatriation program began, through October 1998, 893 Bosnian refugees had voluntarily repatriated.

Other Nationalities

In 1998, 129 asylum seekers from countries other than Iran and Iraq sought recognition as refugees from UNHCR. UNHCR recognized 24 of 82 cases decided, a 29 percent approval rate. The largest number were from Algeria, Nigeria, and Afghanistan.

Few asylum seekers other than Iranians and Iraqis were able to gain access to the government's asylum procedures. The largest number were 19 applicants from Uzbekistan, none of whom was recognized during the year. African asylum seekers often found it difficult to gain access to the government's asylum procedure. Some complained that the police refused to accept their applications.

The authorities also generally exclude Afghans from the asylum procedure, although about 1,400 have been issued temporary residence permits. The authorities reportedly fear an influx of Afghan refugees from neighboring Iran.

Remaining outside formal procedures, about 3,000 ethnic Albanians arrived in Turkey in 1998, representing about half of the persons holding Yugoslav passports residing in Turkey in 1998. The government did not permit ethnic Albanians to apply for asylum in 1998, and did not provide resident permits to them, but it also did not fine them for failure to have resident permits nor did it seek to deport them during the year.

Repatriation of Turkish Kurds from Iraq

In 1998, 615 Turkish Kurds repatriated from Iraq. Since the repatriation program began in July 1996, through December 1998, 1,636 refugees repatriated with UNHCR assistance. Most of these were part of an original group of 15,000 Kurdish refugees who had fled from southeast Turkey in 1994. They initially stayed in the Atrush camp until December 1996, when UNHCR ceased its assistance, saying that Altrush's nonpolitical character had been compromised.

Although some repatriated spontaneously, most arrived as part of organized returns in groups of at least five families at a time. The procedure for orderly returns is for the UNHCR office in Dohuk, northern Iraq, to interview them to assess the voluntariness of their decision to return, and for the KDP to take them by truck to the border crossing at the Habur Bridge. A representative from the UNHCR office in Silopi, Turkey, meets them at the border, along with the Turkish military. They are transported to Hajj camp, where they stay for the next few days, undergoing security interviews and health screening.

As of the end of August 1998, UNHCR had documented the detention of eight persons upon return. In most cases, those arrested had outstanding warrants and some returned voluntarily knowing that they would be arrested upon return, according to UNHCR. As of September 1998, UNHCR had attended the trials of some of the returnees, but had not visited them in prison. The Turkish authorities have not granted the International Committee of the Red Cross access to southeastern Turkey.

After returnees pass the security clearance, UNHCR provides them with a repatriation aid package. They also are permitted to bring their livestock and personal possessions. Many of the refugees come from evacuated villages that the authorities are not allowing to be repopulated. The Turkish authorities have provided shelter material for the rebuilding of two destroyed villages, Tasdelem and Inceler, to which some of the repatriates have relocated. Most of the repatriating refugees went to the two provinces bordering Iraq, 60 percent to Sirnak, and 26 percent to Hakkari.

In early November, local officials in Silopi said they were preparing for the return of the last 8,000 refugees from northern Iraq. A local official reportedly said that 180 persons would be arriving after November 20 and that the remainder would return by year's end. The official said that returnees with families would reunite with them and that flats would be found for those without families.

In another development, Turkey's most prominent Kurdish exile, PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, was on the run in 1998. First, Syria, long Ocalan's haven, expelled him under pressure from Turkey. He appeared briefly in Moscow, and, on November 12, was arrested at the Rome airport. Turkey, seeking Ocalan's extradition, engaged in a bitter dispute with Italy. Although Italy rebuffed Ocalan's attempts to win political asylum, the Italian authorities also refused Turkey's extradition request, citing the existence of the death penalty in Turkey as a bar on extradition under Italian law. Italy expressed a willingness to try Ocalan before an international court, an option that Turkey rejected.

(On February 16, 1999, Turkish forces captured Abdullah Ocalan in Nairobi, Kenya and brought him to Turkey to stand trial for treason.)

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