Estimating the number of refugees in Turkey, rather than only those officially recognized, is almost impossible. The 2,157 persons the Turkish government recognized as asylum seekers in 1997 (1,103 Iraqis, 1,004 Iranians, and 50 others), or UNHCR's 4,617 beneficiaries, were only a small fraction of the persons in Turkey with a well-founded fear of persecution in their homelands. The conflict in Turkey's southeast involving the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) continued in 1997, but with less intensity than in recent years. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of Kurds from southeastern Turkey remained displaced, although estimating their number is virtually impossible. Turkey's asylum regulations continued to discriminate against non European refugees and asylum seekers, adversely affecting Iranians and Iraqis in particular. Procedural requirements often prevented asylum seekers from registering their claims. Others appeared to have been rejected at Turkey's borders with Iran and Iraq. Many would-be asylum seekers apparently have chosen to remain in hiding rather than come forward with refugee claims, either because they were ineligible to meet procedural requirements or because they sensed the authorities' hostility. UNHCR documented 83 cases of refoulement during the year, representing 65 Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers forcibly returned to Iraq and 18 Iranian refugees and asylum seekers to Iran. Of that total, 20 were recognized refugees and 63 were asylum seekers with cases pending with UNHCR. USCR regards at least another 108 forced returns of Iranian refugees and asylum seekers to northern Iraq as refoulement. In 1997, third countries resettled 1,538 refugees from Turkey. Internal Displacement The 13-year conflict in southeastern Turkey between Turkish security forces and the PKK has forced hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of persons from their homes. Internal displacement because of conflict and fear is part of a larger migratory phenomenon occurring in Turkey: the dramatic growth of urban populations. For example, the population of the provincial city of Diyarbakir has swelled from less than 500,000 in 1990 to about 1.5 million in 1997. At the same time, much of the region surrounding Diyarbakir has become depopulated; the remains of burned-out villages stand as silent testimony to the cause of much of the displacement. Undoubtedly, however, economic factors, as well as political, account for some of the urbanization, and persons fleeing for political reasons often have a mix of motives, including seeking employment or‹increasingly in 1997‹food. 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 30 people in dwellings intended for a single family. Some live in tents, others in the streets, homeless and destitute. A minority are housed in government-sponsored resettlement projects. In July, Turkey announced it would provide some housing for internally displaced persons. Turkey's deputy prime minister said in July that some 370,000 people had been "forced to migrate" because of the conflict in the southeast. He said that 3,185 villages had been emptied. At the other end of the spectrum of estimates, the Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD) put the number of displaced persons at 3 million at the end of 1997. In 1994, Turkey's minister for human rights said that 2 million people were internally displaced, a figure that his own government disputed at the time. In its human rights reports for both 1996 and 1997, the U.S. Department of State cited as "credible" a Turkish member of parliament's estimate of 560,000 internally displaced persons. Although much of the displacement has been spontaneous, the Turkish military, between 1993 and 1995, systematically expelled Kurdish villagers in the country's southeast. Security forces targeted villages refusing to join the "village guard" network (a system of state sponsored paramilitary civil-defense forces) or villages suspected of supporting the PKK. In turn, the PKK threatened people it accused of collaborating with state authorities, including with the village guards, forcing them to flee the region as well. The Turkish deputy prime minister cited PKK killing of schoolteachers as a factor contributing to displacement, charging that 2,106 schools had been closed, that there was a shortage of 7,750 teachers, and that 117,000 young people were without education. The Turkish army's campaign to evacuate villages suspected of supporting the PKK began in February 1993. Army and security forces have depopulated mountainous, rural areas, and pushed the village populations into urban centers, creating economic hardship for large numbers of displaced persons, most of them herders or otherwise tied to the pastoral economy. Although information was scarce, Turkish security forces in 1997 continued to target villages suspected of sympathizing with the PKK, and to force out the inhabitants. During the year, the Turkish government said it evacuated 970 persons and destroyed four villages and hamlets, a significant decrease from previous years. The decrease mainly results from the already massive displacement in the southeast, and from the conflict moving into more remote, mountainous areas and across the border into northern Iraq. Nevertheless, human rights groups reported new forced displacement during 1997. Amnesty International reported in November that security forces surrounded ÇinarÖnÜ village, burned down 19 households, and dispersed the village's inhabitants‹by some estimates, more than 1,000 people‹over a wide area, forcing some to flee to Bismil and Diyarbakir. Security forces arrested at least 23 persons on charges of supporting the PKK and took them to Mardin Prison. In late November, the Mardin governor and chief of police told a member of the Parliamentary Commission on Migration seeking to visit ÇinarÖnÜ village that it was deserted. Turkish authorities also blocked independent monitors from reaching Lice, a village that reportedly resisted joining the village guards. Many hamlets and villages around Mardin and to the north of Diyarbakir are empty, with only damaged and destroyed housing remaining. With the exception of some villages populated by village guards, the districts of Silopi, Sirnak, and Eruh along the Iraqi border have been virtually depopulated. Similar measures have targeted civilians living in the Agri and TendÜrek mountains near the borders of Armenia and Iran. The return of some internally displaced persons to their homes represented a counter trend in 1997. The government claimed that 7,608 displaced persons returned to their homes in 16 villages during the year. Particularly in July, authorities reportedly turned away internally displaced persons seeking refuge from fighting in their home areas, forcing them back to the dangerous areas they fled. Local officials in Van reportedly pushed back 270 people from Doganli village in Hakkari Province. Officials reportedly put them on buses and sent them back. HÜrriyet, a Turkish daily newspaper, quoted an official from Van as saying, "Our population has increased to 600,000 from 153,000 due to the immigrants. We do not want any more trouble." Asylum Procedure Turkish asylum procedures are based on a November 1994 regulation, Decision Number 94/6169, which requires non-European, undocumented asylum seekers to present themselves within five days of arrival to the police station closest to where they entered the country. The regulations instruct local police near the borders to conduct interviews to determine if refugee claimants should be recognized officially as asylum seekers. Because Turkey's accession to the UN Refugee Convention excludes non-Europeans from its obligations on behalf of refugees, 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. However, according to the Turkish regulations, the distinguishing feature between a refugee and an asylum seeker is whether the person in question is of European origin. Within the Turkish definition, an asylum seeker, no less than a refugee, is a person whom Turkish authorities consider to have a well founded fear of persecution according to the criteria in the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol. However, that Turkish authorities recognize a foreigner as an asylum seeker does not ensure against refoulement, but provides only a temporary residence permit enabling the refugee to seek third-country resettlement. Local police conduct asylum interviews but do not make status determinations. Asylum seekers interviewed by Turkish police in the border towns have complained of hostile and aggressive questioning focused on how the person managed to enter the country surreptitiously more than on the grounds for the refugee claim. Asylum seekers in border regions allege that during interviews the Turkish police have verbally threatened and physically abused them. Some allege that the police subject them to body searches during these interviews, looking for false passports. Asylum seekers have told NGOs that the interpreters used in the police interviews are often incompetent. The police forward the interview documents from the border areas to the Ministry of Interior, which, according to the regulations, arrives at a decision after considering "the opinions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other relevant ministries and national agencies." The government does not regularly solicit UNHCR opinions. During 1997, the Turkish authorities decided on 966 asylum applications, granting "asylum seeker" status to 766 and rejecting 200, according to UNHCR. No details were available on the approval rate by nationality or on the reasons for denials. Under the regulations, many foreigners have not been able to file asylum claims at all. The regulations require asylum seekers to apply within five days to local police if they entered the country legally, or, if they entered illegally, to present themselves to the police in the city where they entered the country, also within five days. This means that Iranians and Iraqis who enter illegally must apply for asylum in provincial cities in eastern Turkey, such as Van, Agri, and Sirnak, areas that are under a State of Emergency. In some cases, persons recognized as refugees by UNHCR have not been recognized by the Turkish authorities, often for failing to meet the procedural requirements. In 1997, UNHCR recognized 1,519 persons as refugees (763 Iranians, 726 Iraqis, 30 others). Disagreements between UNHCR and the Turkish government on refugee recognition have led to tense confrontations, particularly when the authorities have sought to deport UNHCR-recognized refugees to their countries of origin. In 1997, Turkish courts intervened for the first time to prevent such deportations. 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. These decisions marked an important intervention by the judicial branch, but their impact on Turkish practices remains to be seen. Since the 1994 regulations, many UNHCR-recognized refugees, some with third-country offers of resettlement, had been unable to leave the country because Turkey considered them illegal aliens and refused to issue them exit permits. Between April 1996 and March 1997, the authorities relented in some cases, issuing exit permits for 304 Iranian and Iraqi refugees whom Turkey had not recognized as refugees, but who had UNHCR-mandate refugee status. However, in March 1997, Turkey again decided that it would not issue exit permits to persons it considered "illegal," despite the entreaties of UNHCR and resettlement countries. After announcing the deportation policy, Turkish police conducted sweeps of Nevsehir and Kayseri, towns with large populations of undocumented Iranians. Continuing into April, the Turkish authorities deported to Iraq undocumented Iranians believed to have transited through or resided in Iraq before entering Turkey. Nearly half of the caseload of Iranian asylum seekers in Turkey are believed to have entered Turkey via Iraq. The deportations included at least 69 UNHCR-recognized Iranian refugees, many with resettlement offers in other countries. After crossing the border at Zakho, the refugees stayed in the Zaviteh camp in northern Iraq in difficult circumstances with minimal assistance. USCR met with Turkish embassy officials in March to raise concerns about the deportation of Iranian asylum seekers and refugees to Iraq. USCR also met with U.S. government officials to draw their attention to several Iranian refugees accepted for U.S. resettlement who were among those issued deportation orders. USCR urged the U.S. government to work with other resettlement countries to propose a resolution that might satisfy Turkish concerns and protect vulnerable refugees. Turkey did indicate that it would allow those Iranians whom it had deported to Iraq to transit through Turkey if resettlement countries issued them visas and plane tickets. Despite this agreement, most of those Iranian refugees being resettled from northern Iraq, in fact, traveled overland to Jordan and left via Amman. In practical terms, the absence of diplomatic posts in northern Iraq made it extremely difficult to interview Iranian refugees or to provide them with travel documents. Finally, Turkey agreed to a "one-time solution" for 3,300 non European refugees and asylum seekers who had not followed the procedural requirements of the asylum regulations. It agreed to issue exit permits to UNHCR-recognized refugees, allowing them to seek third country resettlement. The government outlined a three-step plan. First, UNHCR-recognized refugees with resettlement offers could leave by the end of November. Second, UNHCR-recognized refugees without resettlement offers could remain until the end of February 1998. Finally, Turkey would allow asylum seekers on a list of cases pending with UNHCR, if determined to be refugees, to remain until May 1998. The government said that beneficiaries of the amnesty could register with police in the areas where they were residing, and that they would not be deported if they followed the rules, were recognized by UNHCR, and offered resettlement by a third country. By year's end, UNHCR had presented to the Turkish authorities 429 cases (1,094 persons) of UNHCR-recognized refugees who had failed to meet Turkey's procedural filing requirements. Of those, 261 cases (716 persons) registered with the authorities. The total departures, 342 cases (876 persons), exceed the number who registered with the authorities because 126 cases (265 persons) left without registering. It was unclear if this was a one-time amnesty limited to 3,300 people, or if it might include future arrivals, in accordance with the Ankara Regional Administrative Court's ruling. Accommodations 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 in and around Ankara live in the gecekondu slums, where many internally displaced persons also live in impoverished conditions. The border areas are under a State of Emergency, and the Iraqi and Iranian refugees, primarily Kurds, complain of harsh treatment by local police, border guards, and village guards. Silopi, in particular, is located in a highly militarized area. A curfew was in effect during most of 1997 and, at times, particularly during Turkish military incursions into northern Iraq, refugees were confined to their living quarters. Refugees in Silopi town reside in mud-brick houses without electricity or running water, and only minimum humanitarian aid from UNHCR, which has established field offices in both Silopi (in 1991) and Agri (in mid-1995). The Silopi camp for Iraqi refugees closed in June 1996. In 1997, that camp was used as a reception center for repatriating Kurdish refugees returning from northern Iraq. The refugees in Agri live crowded together in a hotel provided by UNHCR. In May 1997, two UNHCR recognized refugees were reportedly caught in a cross-fire in Van, a town near the Iranian border, and seriously wounded. Refugees from Iran As with other migration statistics in Turkey, estimates of the number of Iranians living in the country vary widely. Only a fraction of the Iranians in Turkey have ever approached the UNHCR office or the Turkish authorities for recognition as refugees. Based on a 1997 site visit to Turkey, the Iranian Refugees' Alliance estimated that half of the Iranian newcomers in Turkey do not register with the police in border towns. In addition, probably hundreds of thousands of other undocumented Iranians living in Turkey for years would be ineligible to apply for asylum according to the 1994 regulations, even if they had bona fide claims. In 1997, the government recognized 1,004 Iranians as asylum seekers; UNHCR recognized 763 Iranians as refugees. Several times in 1997, UNHCR intervened in cases of Iranians it recognized as refugees, but whom the authorities were in the process of deporting to Iran. Despite interventions by UNHCR, NGOs, and other governments, 18 Iranian refugees and asylum seekers were refouled during the year. Also during the year, 905 Iranian refugees resettled in third countries with UNHCR's assistance. UNHCR had recommended another 876 for resettlement, but they had not departed by year's end. According to Baha'i sources, 103 Iranian Baha'i refugees were awaiting resettlement offers at year's end. Refugees from Iraq As with Iranians, Turkish authorities have consistently resisted applying the refugee designation to Iraqis. It has insisted on its geographically restrictive interpretation of the term, not wanting to acknowledge the obligations under international law that apply to persons recognized as refugees. Historically, the Turkish authorities have not regarded Iraqis as persons requiring individualized refugee determination procedures. In 1988, when more than 60,000 Iraqis fled to Turkey, and again in 1991, when more than 450,000 Iraqis sought refuge in Turkey, the sheer numbers precluded individualized refugee determinations. The existence of a "safe haven zone" in northern Iraq, however precarious, has contributed to the Turkish authorities' presumption that northern Iraq is safe for Iraqi Kurds and that they can be returned there without fear of persecution. They assume so, despite the internecine turmoil among the Kurdish political factions there, penetration by agents of the regime in Baghdad, and periodic incursions and bombing by Turkish forces. Turkey recognized 1,103 Iraqi asylum seekers in 1997, providing them temporary resident permits with the expectation that they would seek refugee determination interviews with UNHCR. Those rejected were told to leave the country within 15 days with the possibility to appeal during that time. UNHCR recognized 726 Iraqis as refugees during the year, and third countries resettled 600. At year's end, another 618 Iraqi refugees recommended by UNHCR for resettlement had still not departed for third countries. During the year, there were 65 documented cases of refoulement involving Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers. Refugees from Bosnia As Europeans, Bosnians in Turkey are not handicapped by Turkey's geographical reservation to the UN Refugee Convention, and can, in principle, be accepted as refugees. In practice, however, Turkey's response to an estimated 20,000 Bosnians who sought refuge on its territory was to regard them as "guests" without permanent status. Turkey has not conducted any registration exercise that would indicate their exact number. Many Bosnian refugees have opted to repatriate or to move on to third countries. In 1997, UNHCR and IOM cooperated to assist Bosnians wishing to repatriate. In 1997, 627 Bosnians repatriated with UNHCR/IOM assistance. Of these, 395 left from the Kirklareli camp, near the Bulgarian border. The other 232 had been living in urban areas. Another 2,000 Bosnians have repatriated without UNHCR or IOM assistance, according to the Bosnian consulate in Istanbul. Since 1993, another 934 Bosnians have left Turkey to resettle in the United States without UNHCR involvement. UNHCR estimated its Bosnian caseload at the end of 1997 to be 2,284 persons, based on 235 persons remaining at the Kirklareli camp and 2,049 active cases at the UNHCR-funded dispensary in Istanbul. Restrictive Measures/Refoulement Turkey's borders remained dangerous and inhospitable to asylum seekers trying to cross from Iran and Iraq. On May 11, border guards opened fire on a group of five Afghans and four Iranian Baha'is at or near the town of Dogubeyazit. All four Baha'is were killed, as were three of the Afghans. According to Baha'i sources, the bodies were badly mutilated and not buried properly. Although the Turkish authorities did deport at least 69 Iranian refugees and 39 asylum seekers to Iraq in 1997, UNHCR did not view such cases as refoulement. Instead, it considered them "irregular movers"‹maintaining that although they have a well-founded fear of persecution in Iran, they have established themselves in Iraq, where they initially fled. USCR questioned that interpretation in a May 30 letter to UNHCR, saying, "Under the circumstances, we would suggest that the principle of nonrefoulement itself might well apply to Iranian refugees in Iraq, since Article 33 [of the Refugee Convention] does not specify that the frontier of the territory to which a refugee should not be returned has to be the territory of that refugee's nationality, so long as credible threats to the person's life or freedom exist in that place." USCR argued that these Iranian refugees were, indeed, in danger in northern Iraq at the hands of agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran operating there, as well as others. UNHCR recorded fewer cases of Iranian refugees refouled to Iran and Iraqi refugees refouled to Iraq in 1997 compared to the two previous years. During the year, UNHCR documented 20 cases of refoulement involving UNHCR-recognized refugees, in contrast to 51 in 1996 and 76 in 1995. UNHCR also considered as refoulement the forced return of 63 asylum seekers in 1997, who had no opportunity for a full hearing of their claims. This also indicated an improvement in comparison with 1996, when 92 asylum seekers were refouled. In a number of cases, persons who had been refouled from Turkey managed subsequently to return to Turkey. During the first nine months of 1997, Turkey apprehended 18,023 undocumented migrants. In Edirne Province, on Turkey's border with Greece, in the northwest corner of the country, Turkish authorities apprehended about 12,000 undocumented aliens during the year. In separate incidents in May and July, 33 undocumented Iraqis, apparently bound for Greece, drowned in the Aegean Sea off the Turkish coast when their boats capsized. During the first ten months of the year, Greek authorities apprehended more than 4,200 people as they attempted to cross from Turkey to Greece without authorization. In late December, a Turkish-registered ship carrying 825 undocumented aliens, mostly Iraqi and Turkish Kurds, ran aground off the coast of Italy. After Italy's president spoke of welcoming people who are persecuted, and its prime minister said that Italy would welcome Kurdish asylum seekers with "open arms," Turkey's foreign minister sent a letter to his Italian counterpart. He said, "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 chastised 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." In the following days, Turkish police rounded up thousands of undocumented aliens. Many were apprehended in and near Istanbul, in western Turkey, but others, predominantly Iraqi nationals, were also apprehended in southeastern Turkey. (In all, Turkish authorities arrested about 3,000 undocumented aliens in late 1997 and early January 1998. Iraqi nationals were bused to the border near Silopi, and nearly 600 Iraqis were deported via the Habur gate in the first three weeks of 1998. None was given the opportunity to register an asylum claim before being deported, as Turkish officials presumed all to have been in Turkey longer than five days. Romanians, Russians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Albanians were also among those apprehended and deported. The Turkish authorities deported many non Iraqis to Bulgaria.) Refugees from Turkey Between July 1996 and the end of 1997, some 1,171 Turkish Kurd refugees returned to Turkey from northern Iraq, 835 of whom came from the Atrush camp. Of the total, 50 percent returned to Sirnak Province, 35 percent to Hakkari Province, 5 percent to other parts of southeastern Turkey, and 8 percent to western Turkey. People returning to their home provinces did not necessarily return to their home villages. At year's end, about 11,000 Turkish Kurds out of some 17,000 who fled from southeast Turkey in 1994 remained in Iraq. In December 1996, UNHCR announced that it would no longer recognize Atrush camp, where most of them had been staying, as a refugee camp because its nonpolitical character had been compromised. UNHCR announced that it would assist individual refugees in transit centers for another month to allow them to make decisions regarding repatriation. In early 1997, UNHCR deployed a team to Silopi to monitor the condition of returnees from Atrush, and found that the Turkish Red Crescent was providing satisfactory assistance to those who could not return to their homes because they were burned down or otherwise destroyed. UNHCR also reported that the Turkish government was providing building materials to returnees from Atrush whose homes had been destroyed, but that lack of employment and housing were impeding successful reintegration. UNHCR established a full-time international staff presence in Silopi, providing returnees with two-month emergency assistance packages and visiting them in their places of return. Since the repatriation program began in July 1996, 16 returnees have been arrested. Of those, eight were detained for less than five days, interrogated, and released; four were charged with crimes (such as having supported separatist groups), held for longer period of times, but subsequently released; and four were still detained at year's end. UNHCR was observing two court cases filed against returnees at year's end.

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