Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - Turkey

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 25 May 2004
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - Turkey , 25 May 2004, available at: [accessed 21 February 2018]
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.

Turkey hosted more than 9,300 refugees and asylum seekers during 2003, including some 6,500 Iranians, 1,500 Iraqis, and 300 unrecognized Chechens. Among the new arrivals to the country, Iranians represented the largest group with more than 5,150 applications to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Other significant arrivals include Iraqis (570), Somalis (200), and Afghans (130), with smaller numbers of Sudanese, Ethiopians, Chinese, and Uzbeks contributing to nearly 6,400 new arrivals in 2003.

About 24,000 Turkish nationals, mostly ethnic Kurds, sought asylum in other countries in 2003. Leading host countries included Germany (6,200), France (6,100), United Kingdom (3,400), Austria (2,800), and Switzerland (1,700). Estimates of the number of internally displaced Kurds in Turkey range from 380,000 to 1 million. In addition, several hundred undocumented asylum seekers – mainly African – also reside in Turkey.

New Developments

By the end of October, UNHCR had organized durable solutions for the remaining European refugees residing near the Bulgarian border and successfully closed the camp. Approximately 40 repatriated to their countries in the former Yugoslavia, and Turkish authorities permitted an additional 11 to integrate locally, working with provincial representatives to secure appropriate accommodations and medical assistance.

UNHCR reported that a number of asylum seekers spontaneously returned to their countries of origin, including 100 Iraqis, 50 Iranians, and 3 Sudanese. The only durable solution besides repatriation for non-European refugees under Turkish law is resettlement. About 2,900 refugees were resettled in 2003, including 2,560 Iranians and 236 Iraqis. Leading resettlement countries were the United States, Canada, Australia, and Norway.

Repatriation of Kurds to Turkey

UNHCR facilitated the return of 35 refugees from northern Iraq in 2003 – all Kurds from Turkey. Some 13,000 have lived there since they fled Turkey in the mid 1990s. About 9,200 live in Mahmour camp, and an additional 3,700 in camps and cities in northern Iraq. In November, a delegation comprised of Turkish, American, and UN officials met to discuss the gradual repatriation of the Kurdish refugees out of northern Iraq. Fewer than 2,300 have returned to Turkey since 1996. In the past, the Turkish government has alleged that Mahmour camp hides members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and demanded that the UN close it down. UNHCR states that the camp currently holds mostly women, children, and elderly refugees.

European Union Acquis Plans

Most procedural changes affecting foreigners in Turkey stemmed from EU accession efforts outlined in the new National Plan of Action for the Adoption of the EU Acquis, issued during 2003. The plan renewed Turkey's conditional commitment to lifting its geographical reservation to the Protocol to the UN Refugee Convention, which limits Turkey's obligations to refugees fleeing conflict in Europe only. Turkey agrees to lift the reservation once sufficient legal and institutional arrangements are in place to manage an expected increase in asylum applications, and to ensure satisfactory burden sharing among EU member states.

Turkey's geographical position makes it a favored transit point for asylum seekers headed for Europe. For those who cannot legally reach the EU, human smugglers proffer many opportunities for onward migration. In another step towards countering the flow of illegal migration from Turkey, the Turkish Parliament ratified the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its supplementary protocols against migrant smuggling and human trafficking. The number of boats illegally ferrying migrants from Turkey to EU countries dropped significantly in 2003 due to increased coastal patrols by Turkish authorities. Turkey also planned to establish a new Border Guard Unit within the Ministry of Interior as part of its accession plan and anti-smuggling efforts. In addition to those with Greece and Syria previously arranged, Ankara concluded a readmission agreement with Kyrgyzstan during the year, and a second with Romania in January 2004. Authorities initiated negotiations with 4 more countries of origin, and have proposed an additional 22.

Turkey revoked the passports of Turkish citizens abroad who refused to complete their mandatory military service, impeding their potential deportation to Turkey. The Interior Ministry estimated about 100 stateless Turks in Germany fell into this category. The German government issued a formal complaint, charging that such action could harm Turkey's chances for admission to the EU.

Refoulement of Irregular Movers

In August, Turkish security forces forcibly repatriated between 20 and 43 Iranians from Van near Turkey's eastern border with Iran, all having refugee status from UNHCR granted in northern Iraq. Within days, all managed to cross back over the mountains to Turkey. UNHCR views Iranians in Turkey with status determinations from northern Iraq as irregular movers and generally does not track statistical data relating to their claims. Iranian NGOs estimate that more than 1,000 Iranians fit this category, although UNHCR lists less than half that number in a recent summary, which reported just one appeal decision and 19 re-opened cases.

A separate report from a local NGO indicated that Turkish authorities also deported several groups of non-Syrian nationals across the Syrian border, all of whom returned to Turkey with the paid assistance of traffickers. Deportations such as this often take place during periodic crackdowns on undocumented asylum seekers, and mostly occur in Istanbul. In these sweeps, Iranian, Iraqi, and African asylum seekers are arrested and bussed across Turkey's eastern borders – and in most cases, turn around and return after a few days. The Syrian border is the typical forced destination for Africans.

In 2002, UNHCR reported that some 2,000 to 2,500 Chechens resided in Istanbul, deprived of refugee status determinations or assistance. Independent reports in 2003 indicate that at least 300 remain, their asylum applications to Turkish authorities rejected on the grounds that it is safe to return to their country (Russia). Detailed information and statistics are not available, however, because the Turkish government prohibits UNHCR and other refugee organizations from all contact with this group, due to a tacit agreement with Russian authorities.

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