Turkey hosted about 12,600 refugees and asylum seekers in 2001. These included 3,400 recognized refugees (2,650 Iranians, 565 Iraqis, and 185 others); about 3,400 asylum seekers (2,800 Iranians, 400 Iraqis, and 200 others) whose cases were pending with the Turkish authorities; an estimated 5,500 Macedonians who had fled to Turkey during the year; and about 300 Bosnian and Kosovar refugees who remained in the country at year's end.

These groups, however, probably represented only a fraction of the foreigners residing in Turkey in 2001 who had a well-founded fear of persecution in their home countries. Either because they did not meet procedural requirements, or because they feared rejection of their claims and subsequent deportation, many would-be asylum seekers preferred to remain in hiding, to renew nonimmigrant visas, or to move on to third countries, rather than come forward with refugee claims.

By year's end, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which runs a status-determination procedure parallel to the government's, had recognized 2,867 persons as refugees, of whom 2,247 were Iranians, 455 Iraqis, and 165 other nationalities. UNHCR regards all persons recognized under its mandate in Turkey as being in need of resettlement to other countries.

More than 8,000 Macedonians, mostly ethnic Albanians fleeing civil strife, entered Turkey during the course of the spring and summer. About 2,500 had returned home by year's end, while 5,500 remained in Turkey.

Between 400,000 and 1 million citizens of Turkey (overwhelmingly Kurds) were displaced within Turkey because of the conflict between Turkish military and security forces and the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) in southeastern Turkey. Almost all had been displaced in previous years.

About 30,100 Turkish nationals sought asylum in other European countries in 2001 (nearly 11,000 of whom applied for asylum in Germany and almost 3,700 in the United Kingdom), representing a 9 percent increase from the 27,600 asylum seekers from Turkey who applied for asylum in Europe in 2000. Some 13,100 Turkish refugees were also living in Iraq in 2001.

Internal Displacement

Internal displacement resulting from conflict, evacuation, or fear is part of a larger migratory phenomenon occurring in Turkey. Urban populations have grown dramatically throughout the country in recent years. Many migrants base their decision to move on a mix of political and economic motives, and have relocated due to varying degrees of coercion and choice. Undoubtedly, economic factors account for much of the urbanization. However, many economic migrants were forcibly displaced by the economic disruption in southeastern Turkey stemming from the protracted conflict.

Estimates of the numbers of displaced people vary widely. Some government officials deny that any people in Turkey are internally displaced, while some local nongovernmental organizations put the number of displaced persons as high as 3 million. In its human rights report for 2001, the U.S. Department of State said that "credible estimates" of internally displaced people in Turkey range as high as 1 million. The Turkish government reported that 378,000 persons had "migrated" from 3,165 villages in provinces under a state of emergency between 1994 and 1999.

The government's count of internal displacement includes only persons displaced as a result of village and hamlet evacuations; it does not include people who fled towns or cities in the southeast, or villagers who felt compelled to flee, for example, because of conflict with Village Guards (a Kurdish paramilitary group created by the government to oppose the PKK in the southeast), even if the village itself was not evacuated. Therefore, the figure based solely on evacuations must be regarded as below the baseline for any estimate of the number of internally displaced persons in Turkey.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) therefore prefers a range of 400,000 to 1 million, reflecting evacuations and spontaneous movement as well as displacement from the southeast to the central and western parts of Turkey and rural-to-urban movement within the southeast itself.

Although there continued to be little violence in 2001, Turkish security forces expelled about 250 residents of two villages near the Turkish-Iraqi border in the southeastern province of Sirnak in July after a landmine explosion in the area killed one Turkish soldier and wounded another. Security forces reportedly arrested 33 villagers and allegedly subjected at least three to various forms of torture. The authorities also arrested and detained a young boy who described the expulsion to journalists and human rights workers. Although the village residents were permitted to return in September, security forces imposed a food embargo on the villages for the remainder of the year, restricting the amount of food residents could buy in nearby towns.

Returns of displaced people during the year appeared to be modest and sporadic. According to the Interior Ministry, 35,513 persons returned to their villages between June 2000 and the end of 2001. However, the Turkish Human Rights Foundation, a nongovernmental organization, reported that would-be returnees continued to be blocked from returning to their villages and prevented from farming or rebuilding in the vicinity of their villages during 2001.

The government's return programs often involve a political loyalty test, such as agreement to participate in the Village Guards. In fact, many of the displaced fled their homes under threat from the Village Guards themselves or were forced to leave for refusing to join the Village Guards in the first place. The government's organized return program appeared geared towards establishing heavily guarded and controlled "central villages" in the southeast. Several thousand formerly displaced persons were living in such central villages at year's end.

Despite the near absence of open armed conflict during the year, at the end of 2001, four southeastern provinces, Diyarbakir, Hakkari, Sirnak, and Tunceli, remained under a state of emergency.

Asylum Procedures

During the year, 4,492 asylum applicants, mostly Iranians and Iraqis, registered asylum claims with the Turkish police, a slight decrease from the 4,625 asylum applicants in 2000. The government granted temporary asylum in 2,408 cases and rejected 351 during the year, for an approval rate of 87 percent of cases adjudicated. This does not include cases excluded from the asylum procedure for failure to meet procedural requirements.

In 1999, Turkey amended its 1994 asylum regulations (Regulation number 94/6169), extending from five days to ten the deadline for registering asylum claims with the authorities after arriving in the country. The amendment let stand, however, the requirement that undocumented asylum seekers register their claims with the police in the province where they entered the country. The amendment also introduced a right to appeal.

Turkey's asylum regulations instruct 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," the government refuses to recognize non-Europeans as refugees. Therefore, the asylum regulations take 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.

Generally, undocumented non-European asylum seekers first present themselves to UNHCR offices in Ankara or border areas, where the refugee agency 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 the police at the province where they entered the country. Only rarely do asylum seekers register only with the police without first presenting themselves to UNHCR; such cases are limited to Europeans and ethnic 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 the Interior (MOI) in Ankara, where the claim 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 are agency staff present during the police interviews.)

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs makes a recommendation to the MOI, which informs the police whether the claim has been granted or denied. If granted "temporary asylum seeker status," the recognized non-European is given a six-month residence permit, sent to a satellite city, and directed to UNHCR to be considered for recognition (if not already recognized), and resettlement to another country. UNHCR's approval rate for all nationalities in 2001 was 57 percent.

If denied, the applicant has 15 days to appeal the decision or leave the country. The appeal is also decided by the MOI, although by a higher official.

In 2001, the Turkish authorities granted 92 percent of Iranians temporary asylum seeker status; UNHCR recognized 67 percent of Iranian claimants as refugees in its parallel procedure. The Turkish authorities had a 78 percent approval rate for Iraqis; UNHCR's refugee recognition rate for Iraqis was 31 percent. Turkey and UNHCR had similar approval rates for other nationalities, 54 percent and 53 percent respectively.

When an asylum seeker receives a deportation order, UNHCR assigns a high priority to completing its determination of the claimant's refugee status. If UNHCR recognizes a refugee slated for deportation, the agency writes a "letter of support" calling upon the MOI to suspend the deportation order.

Turkish administrative courts have intervened in several cases involving asylum seekers who failed to meet the application deadline, and have enjoined the police from removing those persons. These cases cite Turkey's international obligations not to return refugees to persecution. In some cases, after the courts have suspended deportations, the MOI has allowed asylum seekers who had failed to meet the ten-day filing deadline to enter the asylum procedure. In other cases, the MOI has appealed administrative court decisions to the Council of State, the highest administrative court.

Restrictive Measures

Turkey refouled – forcibly returned – 97 asylum seekers and 3 recognized refugees in 2001, a marked increase from the 21 asylum seekers and 4 refugees forcibly repatriated in 2000. Seventy-eight of the asylum seekers refouled during the year were Iraqis who were originally deported from Cyprus to Turkey. Turkey, in turn, deported them to northern Iraq. The three known refoulement cases of recognized refugees included one Iraqi and one Iranian. USCR was unable to ascertain the nationality of the third refouled refugee.

These statistics are deceptive, however. UNHCR's documentation of refoulement focuses exclusively on people who have been able to file claims with its office. It is unknown how many people apprehended at borders who might be seeking asylum from persecution are never given an opportunity to file a claim. In effect, only those asylum seekers who manage to evade capture and approach a UNHCR office are able to pursue their asylum claims with the authorities. The rest, particularly if apprehended in the border area, are summarily deported.

Throughout the year, Turkish border authorities arrested, detained, and deported undocumented foreigners attempting to cross into Turkey from Iran, Iraq, and Syria and to transit through Turkey to Greece and other European countries. In 2001, the government reported apprehending about 94,000 people attempting to cross its borders without proper documents. The migrants came from a wide range of countries, including Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh.

Apprehensions and deportations of migrants attempting unauthorized entry into Turkey from Iran and Iraq were often not reported because of the remoteness of those borders, the lack of access for journalists and independent monitors, and the high military and police presence there. Nevertheless, several serious abuses were reported in the border region in 2001, including the shooting deaths of at least four migrants attempting to cross the Turkish border (two on the Turkish-Iranian and two on the Turkish-Syrian border).

Generally, all deportations were to bordering countries, including of foreigners from countries farther away, who generally were deported to the country from which they entered Turkey. During the year, Turkey signed readmission agreements with Greece and Syria that provide for the return of illegal migrants. The agreements do not contain provisions that would assure asylum seekers access to the asylum procedure in the country to which they are returned.

Turkey also entered into a multilateral agreement with Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Sweden that permits rejected Iraqi asylum seekers in those countries to repatriate to northern Iraq via Turkey with the assistance of the International Organization of Migration. Although the several dozen Iraqis who opted for repatriation through Turkey in 2001 appeared to do so voluntarily, most reportedly were denied assistance and legal status in Europe, leaving them little choice but to repatriate. While the Turkish government negotiated with the European Union on various border-control measures in 2001, the two sides had not reached any agreement by year's end.

Turkish police also conducted sweeps through immigrant neighborhoods in Istanbul and other Turkish cities during the year, arresting hundreds of undocumented immigrants, including asylum seekers. In July, Istanbul police arrested, detained, and deported more than 200 African immigrants of various nationalities. Turkish human rights advocates said that the authorities severely mistreated some of the Africans in detention, depriving them of food, clean water, and medical assistance. After several days, the authorities attempted to deport the group to Greece, but Greece refused them entry. Although Turkey eventually readmitted most of the Africans, three reportedly died and another three allegedly were raped while trapped in the border zone.

As the crisis unfolded at the Greek-Turkish border, USCR called upon the Turkish government on July 25 to "demonstrate its commitment to human rights by immediately investigating the situation and taking whatever steps are necessary to ensure the protection of these immigrants and refugees." The Turkish government did not respond.


Most non-European refugees and asylum seekers in Turkey are concentrated in two areas – Ankara and its satellite towns, and in Van and Agri, near the Iranian border. ASAM, a Turkish nongovernmental organization, provided accommodation to a small number of single female asylum seekers and refugees, many with children, in two shelters in Van during the year. The government also housed a limited number of high-profile asylum seekers (former officers in the Iranian and Iraqi militaries, journalists, and intellectuals). However, the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers and refugees did not receive accommodation or assistance in 2001. Most were destitute, living on the margins of Turkish society.

UNHCR has no direct involvement in sheltering refugees and asylum seekers, but provides financial assistance to recognized refugees in need or to asylum seekers who meet the refugee agency's assistance criteria. UNHCR has generally set a higher priority on providing financial assistance in border towns to encourage compliance with Turkish regulations and to discourage the authorities from deporting indigent asylum seekers from border areas.

Those staying in and around Ankara live in slums, where many internally displaced persons also live in impoverished conditions. Generally, persons whom both UNHCR and the government recognize as refugees are required to reside in the satellite cities pending their resettlement. Refugees and asylum seekers are not permitted to work, but their children are allowed to attend primary school.

The estimated 5,500 Macedonians remaining in Turkey at year's end reportedly were living with friends and relatives.

The Kirklareli camp, which was used through much of the 1990s to accommodate refugees from the Balkans, still held 47 Bosnian refugees and 45 Yugoslavs in 2001. Most Bosnian and Yugoslav refugees in Turkey were living independently in Istanbul during the year.


The only durable solution for recognized Iraqi and Iranian refugees is resettlement to a third country. During the year, 2,747 refugees were resettled, including 2,203 Iranians, 477 Iraqis, and 67 others. The principal resettlement countries were the United States (896), Canada (636), Norway (606), and Sweden (200). About 3,400 recognized refugees were awaiting resettlement at year's end.

Between January 2000 and December 2001, about 850 Iranian refugees arrived in Turkey from the semi-autonomous Kurdish zone in northern Iraq. The Iranian refugees apparently moved from northern Iraq to Turkey to seek resettlement outside the region; they had no opportunity for resettlement from northern Iraq, nor any prospects for local integration or repatriation. Although the Turkish government generally has regarded this group as inadmissible for temporary asylum because it considers northern Iraq to be safe for them, UNHCR negotiated an agreement with the Turkish government that allowed the agency to review the claims of Iranians who arrived from northern Iraq in 2000 (about 550 persons). While UNHCR was working to find resettlement opportunities for the Iranian refugees who arrived before January 1, 2001, the agency and the government would not consider those who arrived after January 1 as eligible for resettlement (about 300 persons).

The Turkish authorities refuse to allow refugees to resettle who have not met the filing requirements, in particular, the ten-day deadline to submit applications after entry, even if UNHCR recognizes them as refugees and another country expresses a willingness to resettle them.

Repatriation of Turkish Kurds from Iraq

Only 38 Kurdish refugees repatriated to Turkey from northern Iraq in 2001, down from 263 in 2000. About 2,200 Turkish Kurds have returned since November 1997.

Although the government has not extended an amnesty to the Kurdish refugees who fled in 1994, it has said that it would not prosecute them for illegal departure from Turkey. Some Kurds have been arrested upon return, mostly charged with membership in (or support of) an illegal organization.

Upon arrival, the Turkish authorities bring the returnees to the "Haji" camp in Silopi where they are registered and undergo security clearances. Nearly 90 percent of the returnees originate in the war-torn southeastern provinces of Sirnak and Hakkari, where many former villages are destroyed or still sealed off for security reasons. If unable to return to their places of origin, the returnees join the ranks of the internally displaced, usually living with relatives. Because of the war devastation and economic stagnation in the southeast, few returnees were able to find work upon return.


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