Estimates of the number of internally displaced Kurds in Turkey range from 380,000 to 1 million. About 44,300 Turkish nationals, mostly ethnic Kurds, sought asylum in other countries in 2002. Leading host countries included Iraq (13,700), Germany (9,600), France (6,500), the United Kingdom (3,700), and Austria (3,500).

Turkey itself also hosted about 10,000 refugees and asylum seekers in 2002. Leading sources included Iran (4,800, including 2,800 asylum seekers and 2,000 refugees), Macedonia (3,000 to 4,000 ethnic Albanians), Iraq (700, including 400 asylum seekers and 300 refugees), and Bosnia and Herzegovina and Yugoslavia (Kosovo) (900 refugees).


Fighting between Turkish military forces and Kurdish guerrillas continued in southeast Turkey during 2002 causing further displacement and hindering return of displaced persons.

The origins of the conflict go back to 1984 when the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) took up arms against the Turkish government to fight for Kurdish autonomy in the country's southeastern region, triggering a crackdown by the Turkish army. More than 36,000 people, most of them PKK rebels, have been killed in the conflict. In the late 1980s and at the height of PKK activity in the area, the Turkish government formed and armed the Village Guards, a Kurdish pro-government militia, to counter the uprising. The new strategy emptied many Kurdish villages of anybody unwilling to take up arms against the PKK.

The violence decreased significantly after the capture of PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, in February 1999. In September 1999 the PKK declared its intention to end the armed campaign and seek a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish issue. While the PKK reorganized under the new name of Congress for Freedom and Democracy in Kurdistan (KADEK) to campaign through democratic means, it continued to fight Turkish forces in southeastern Turkey.

Internal Displacement

Returns of displaced people during the year were minimal and sporadic. Some 37,000 persons have returned to 460 villages or pastures since 2000 as a part of the government's Back to Villages and Rehabilitation Project. However, the Turkish government imposed political loyalty tests, compelling some returnees to sign forms stating they were displaced due to terrorism and forcing others to join the Village Guards, the group responsible for causing many to flee their homes in the first place. Many Kurds still fear to return to their villages until the Village Guards are abolished.

In May 2002, at the invitation of the Turkish government, the UN Representative on Internally Displaced Persons conducted an exploratory mission to Turkey. During the mission, the government lifted a state of emergency in two of four provinces. In the representative's discussions with the authorities and non-governmental organizations, he called for close cooperation between them in the service of the affected communities toward effective and timely implementation of the return policy.

Village Guards, however, shot and killed three returning villagers in Nurettin village in July 2002, and two returning villagers and one child in Ugrak, Diyarbakir, in September. By the end of 2002, the number of Village Guards decreased to 60,000.

Asylum Procedures

Turkey is a party to the UN Refugee Convention but applies it only to asylum seekers and refugees from Europe by maintaining a geographical reservation. Non-European asylum seekers and refugees, particularly Iranians and Iraqis, are only granted temporary protection. For them, resettlement remains the only durable solution available.

The Refugee Convention, on the other hand, protected refugees from Europe. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conducted their status determinations and provided material assistance. The Turkish government affords basic necessities and protection to registered non-European asylum seekers. However, there are many constraints in gaining access to the procedure. There is no process for applying at the border where guards may arrest, detain, and forcibly return undocumented asylum seekers.

Generally, undocumented, non-European asylum seekers first present themselves to UNHCR offices in Ankara or border areas, where UNHCR interviews them and provides them with a letter acknowledging them as asylum seekers filing an asylum application with the Turkish authorities. UNHCR directs them to the police station at the province where they entered the country. It is rare that asylum seekers register only with the police and do not first present themselves to UNHCR; such cases are limited to Europeans and ethnic Turkomans. The asylum seeker has 10 days to register their applications with the police station, and must provide an identification document within another 15 days.

Local police conduct the asylum interviews, but do not make a status determination. They send the file to the Ministry of Interior (MOI) in Ankara, where it is reviewed and passed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). The MFA then requests UNHCR's opinion on the claim. UNHCR neither examines the police file nor it is present during the police interviews of asylum seekers.

The MFA 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 a third country.

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

According to UNHCR, nearly 13 percent of asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR faced obstacles in submitting their applications.

Asylum seekers who do not register with the Turkish authorities within ten days of arrival or do not present an identification document are not allowed to seek asylum in Turkey. The waiting period for non-European asylum seekers was an average of six months for a first decision on their applications. Most suffer severe economic hardship during the wait and once their asylum application is approved, they are assigned to live in one of 25 provincial capitals. By 2003, Turkey plans to reduce the waiting time for refugee status determinations from six months to three months.

Turkey came under pressure from the European Union (EU) and UNHCR to reform its procedures for non-European asylum seekers. In 2002, the Turkish Government formed an inter-ministerial task force to guide implementation of the EU community legislation, known as the Acquis Communautaire, including the development of a new law on asylum that does not discriminate on the basis of race. The events of September 11, 2001, however, forced governments to tighten security, which resulted in the delay of processing cases for resettlement. The repercussions of September 11 are said to project through 2003.

With the assistance of UNHCR, the Turkish government is working towards the creation of a specialized corps of asylum decision-makers in addition to permanent training on refugee protection within the relevant ministries.

At the beginning of 2002, there were 3,700 asylum applicants from Iran and Iraq alone (2,800 Iranians and 930 Iraqis). There were also 1,630 Iranian and 530 Iraqi asylum cases pending. The pending caseload was reduced by 34 percent throughout the first half of 2002. The government granted temporary asylum to 2,300 applicants (2,030 Iranians and 280 Iraqis), but rejected 840 Iranians and 650 Iraqis. The approval rate for adjudicated cases was nearly 70 percent for Iranians and close to 30 percent for Iraqis. There was a significant decrease in the number of Iranian and Iraqi claims.

In March, more than 8,000 refugees, mostly ethnic Albanians, entered the country because of hostilities in the Tetovo area of Macedonia. Most of those who entered left by the end of the month, but more arrived after renewed fighting during the months of June and July. Roughly 3,000 to 4,000 Macedonian asylum seekers were in the country at the end of August.

Restrictive Measures

Reliable reports indicated abusive treatment of asylum seekers by Turkish authorities in border areas. In early 2002, at least 4 asylum seekers were shot and killed by Turkish border police, 26 froze to death in remote mountain crossings, and scores drowned.

The Turkish government uses paramilitary forces such as Village Guards in northern Iraq to restrict refugee movements. In late 2002, the Turkish government feared a new influx, and established a series of camps within the 9-mile (15 km) Turkish-occupied strip in northern Iraq. When it introduced this plan in November, the Turkish government stated that its main goal would be to send foreigners in the camps either back to their region of origin or to third countries. Set up in a military occupied zone, the camps were also potential targets.

In July 2002, as a result of criticism from the EU and the United States regarding illegal migration and human trafficking, Turkey established refugee centers, each with a 1000-person capacity, in 11 different provinces. Turkey also set up a task force, under the coordination of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, to restrict human trafficking and enhance border security.


For the most part, non-European refugees and asylum seekers are destitute in Turkey. Many refugees and asylum seekers gather in slums on the outskirts of cities such as Diyarbakir and Batman. Housing programs have been insufficient to address the needs of the Kurdish population in southeastern Turkey, let alone of refugees and asylum seekers.

UNHCR provides a monthly subsistence allowance to those in need based on individual assessment. In addition, primary education and emergency shelter are provided by the UNHCR to the neediest refugees. An average of 3,000 persons received monthly allowances and an average of 530 persons per month received social and legal counseling.

In March 2002, the Turkish Government issued a regulation granting refugees and asylum seekers free access to state healthcare facilities. During 2002, the UNHCR funded a program for reproductive health training and counseling. UNHCR reported that 600 children received educational supplies and uniforms. Also, 85 asylum seekers and refugee children participated in the vocational training and recreational activities in Van. In early 2002, UNHCR canceled one of the counseling programs in Van when an implementing partner was unable to secure government authorization for the project. UNHCR also had to provide more assistance to those in need, forcing it to suspend other programs and to cut monthly allowances to some refugees in the second part of 2002.


The only durable solution for non-European refugees, such as Iranians and Iraqis under Turkish law was resettlement. About 2,200 refugees were resettled, including 1,800 Iranians. The destinations were United States (960), Canada (630), and Norway (610).

Repatriation of Turkish Kurds from Iraq

There have been a total of 2,250 Turkish returnees from northern Iraq since 1996. But 13,600 remained in 2002 and did not appear ready to leave.


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