Bill Frelick

Senior Policy Analyst, U.S. Committee for Refugees July 1996

The author wishes to thank the embassy of Turkey in Washington, D.C. and the Turkish Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their willingness to discuss the issues relating to refugees and asylum seekers in Turkey. The author also wishes to thank the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Washington. Ankara. and Geneva for their assistance. Several nongovernmental organizations were particularly helpful in providing assistance and information. The author is especially grateful for the help of Maryam Narnazie of the Committee for Humanitarian Assistance to Iranian Refugees (CHAIR), Farshad Husseini of the International Federation of Iranian Refugees and Immigrants Councils (IFIRIC)- Turkey branch, and other persons who preferred anonymity, including members of the Iranian Refugees' Alliance. Finally, the author wishes to thank the 161 rejected Iranian asylum seekers who, at the time of his visit. were staging a sit-in at the offices of the United Socialist Party of Turkey to protest the rejection of their refugee claims by UNHCR and to call for the cancellation of their deportation orders by the Turkish government. They shared their hospitality. their stories, and, most importantly, their confidence. The U.S. Committee for Refugees receives no government funding. USCR is grateful for the important support it receives from the Ford Foundation. the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. the John Merck Fund. the Joyce Mertz-Gilmore Foundation. and the Pew Charitable Trusts. USCR is also grateful to many individual contributors. © 1996 Immigration and Refugee Services of America [SSN 0882-9282


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Executive Summary

Turkey, whose accession to the 1951 Refugee Convention includes a reservation that excludes non-Europeans from recognition as refugees.. promulgated regulations in November 1994 establishing a system for determining whether non-European refugee claimants would even be considered as "asylum seekers" and be given the opportunity to present their claims to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Among other provisions, the new regulations require non-Europeans to file their asylum claims within five days of entering the country, and, for those arriving with improper documents, to file their claims with the police at the location nearest where they entered the country. In effect, this means that Iranians arriving in major cities such as Ankara or Istanbul after traversing the war zone in southeastern Turkey are required to return to that dangerous area within a very short

time period to register their claims with local police officials. Genuine refugees, persons with a wellfounded fear of persecution, particularly Iranians and Iraqis, have been denied official recognition as "asylum seekers" by the Turkish authorities often for having failed to meet arbitrary and restrictive filing requirements unrelated to the merits of their claims. In some cases, Turkey has forcibly repatriated bona fide refugees to their countries of origin, despite the intervention of UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations, and in violation of the international legal norm of nonrefoulement. In recommendations, beginning on page 16, the U.S. Committee for Refugees calls upon the Turkish government, inter alia, to drop the time and geographical limits on filing asylum claims, to treat non-Europeans the same as Europeans in its refugee law and practice, and to give greater deference to UNHCR with regard to persons for whom UNHCR expresses concern.

.!! Turkey's

Asylum Regulations

Non-European refugees and asylum seekers are in an increasingly hostile and precarious situation in Turkey because government authorities there for the first time have begun to screen refugee claims themselves, rather than deferring that task to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In the past, Turkey allowed UNHCR to make refugee determinations on behalf of nonEuropean asylum seekers with the understanding that UNHCR would take responsibility for finding resettlement places in third countries for those persons determined to be refugees. This arrangement was adopted because Turkey did not recognize non-Europeans as refugees-its accession to the UN Refugee Convention has a geographical reservation limiting its obligations to European refugees only. Although Turkey has maintained its basic stance of refusing to recognize non-Europeans as refugees, it nevertheless, on Novemb~r 30, 1994, appropriated to itself the responsibility for making first instance status determinations for non-European refugee claimants. On that date, a new Turkish regulation, Decision Number 941 6169, went into effect, requiring that asylum seekers in Turkey first present themselves to the police, who are instructed to conduct interviews relating to their possible claims to refugee status. More than a year after promulgation of the new regulations, many problems remain. Some relate to implementation. Others, however, can be traced to the letter of the regulations themselves. Local police conduct the asylum interviews but do not themselves make a status determination, according to the regulations (local nongovernmental organizations say that the police do include written opinions, however). The interview documents are forwarded to the Ministry of Interior, where, according to the rezulations offi~ '" ' cials decide on the case after considering "the opinions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other relevant ministries and national agencies." It appears that the process takes anywhere from one week to fi ve months to complete, and there are indications that a backlog is developing. Although the Turkish authorities have solicited UNHCR opinions in some cases, its opinions are not sought in all cases, nor do the regulations accord a specific role to UNHCR in the status determination procedures (though the regulations specify [hat UNHCR should be coop-

erated with "in principle ... primarily on aspects such as giving food and shelter, transport, resettlement, passport and visa problems rezurdinz a third country"). In 1995, UNHCR ;egiste;ed 1,796 cases in Turkey, representing 3,778 persons .. Ofthe cases decided by UNHCR during the year, Its recognition rate for all nationalities stood at 68 percent. In the first year of implementation of the n~w procedure, 1,690 persons applied for asylum with the Turkish police. During 1995, the Turkish government recognized 195 claimants as "asylum seekers" and rejected 342. Ordinarily, this would be considered as an "approval rate" of 36 percent. However, recognition of the claim by the Turkis h authorities does not carry with it a grant of asylum. "Approval" is qualified.

Turkey makes protection of refugees contingent upon the offer of resettlement by a third country.

Defining Refugees and Asylum Seekers
Because of Turkey's geographic reservation to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, excluding nonEuropeans from its obligations on behalf of refugees, the new regulations take a somewhat convoluted approach to defining the terms "refugee" ~nd "as~lum 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 new 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, has been found by the Turkish authorities to have a wellfounded fear of persecution (the refuzee defini.. '" non In the UN Refugee Convention). Therefore, the common usage of the term "asylum seeker" does not fit the new Turkish definition. This report, therefore, will use the term "foreigner" or "claimant" to indicate a person who would normally meet the definition of "asylum seeker" and reserve the term "asylum seeker" to conform to its technical meaning in the Turkish regulations. Although the definitions look remarkably close, the differences are far-reaching. Turkish authorities' recognition of a foreign~r as an as.ylum seeker essentially provides that person with a temporary residence permit in order to seek third-country resettlement. Failing that, Turkey accepts no responsibility to protect persons it has already found to have well-founded fears of persecution (i.e .. asylum seekers) against refoulement

!! Turkey's Asylum


(the forced return of a person to a place·where his life or freedom would be threatened-a violation of Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention) if UNHCR does not also recognize them as refugees (according to the same "well-founded fear" standard Turkey applies in the case of asylum seekers) or if a resettlement offer is not forthcoming. An official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told USCR, "We don't accept non-Europeans as 'refugees,' but we accept them as 'asylum seekers.' We leave it up to UNHCR to determine if a person is a 'refugee' for resettlement. If UNHCR does not accept them as refugees, we accept its judgment."

The Resettlement Requisite
Even ifUNHCRdoes recognize the asylum seeker as a refugee, the offer of resettlement by a third country is critical. The regulations state that "permits given to foreigners who request residence with the intention of seeking asylum from a third country may not be extended if after given reasonable time the foreigners are still not able to go to a third country. The foreigners in such situations shall be invited to leave the country." (Article 28) The head of the Foreigners Department within the Turkish Ministry ofInterior told USCR, "We only accept refugees from neighboring countries on the condition that they travel to a third country. When a refugee is not granted a visa to travel to a third country, this is the point where we feel our problems. If resettlement is guaranteed, then asylum seekers present no problem." Turkey, therefore, makes protection of refugees contingent upon the offer of resettlement by a third country. The fallacy in such an approach, however, is that, notwithstanding the need of the international community to share the burden with countries of first asylum, nothing in international law compels them to do so. Refugee resettlement is entirely- discretionary. Other factors also playa part in refugee resettlement. First, UNHCR usually assesses whether other "durable solutions" are available to a particular refugee group. The preferred solutions are voluntary repatriation or local integration in the country of first asylum. For most of the world's refugees, one of these options can be seen on the horizon. In the case of non-ethnic-Turkish refugees in Turkey, however, local integration is out of the question. Nor is voluntary repatriation an option for persons with well-founded fears of persecution in Iran and Iraq, given their respective human rights

records and the hostility of both regimes to opposition groups. Even though such refugees may have no options other than resettlement, outside governments are not required to admit them. The relatively few governments that resettle refugees usually take into consideration factors other than greatest vulnerability in choosing who among the world's refugees in need of resettlement they ought to admit. Under such circumstances, governments often weigh the prospects for successful integration--essentially immigration-like criteria-in determining whom to admit, employing criteria such as the existence of family ties or private sponsors. There is no guarantee that sufficient numbers of third-country resettlement offers exist to match all the refugees who may enter a country of first asylum and need resettlement as their only viable durable solution, but the process of determining which refugees are of particular humanitarian concern to a potential resettlement country generally is slow and bureaucratic. A UNHCR resettlement officer in Ankara estimated that it normally takes one year to process a refugee for resettlement when there are no complicating factors. The impatience of the Turkish government, as expressed in Article 28, not only relates to the willingness of third countries to resettle refugees, but also to the time it takes to resettle them. Turkey's judgment that a "reasonable time" has elapsed and that the refugee must leave does not relate to the legitimacy of the refugee's claim to asylum. Rather, through no fault of the refugees themselves, they could suffer the consequences of removal simply based on the unwillingness--or even the slowness--of potential resettlement states to admit them. It may only be a coincidence, but a wave of deportations occurred from Turkey after one circuit ride by a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officer to determine eligible cases for the U.S. resettlement program, raising the concern that the Turkish authorities are deporting refugees who are not accepted for thirdcountry resettlement. During 1995, UNHCR assisted 866 Iranians and 667 Iraqis to resettle in third countries; at year's end, another 384 Iranians and 267 Iraqis had been accepted for resettlement but had not yet departed Turkey. UNHCR's Assessment of Glo-

Even though such refugees may have no options other than resettlement, outside governments are not required to admit them.

bal Resettlement Needs for Refugees in 1996
called for only 1,100 resettlement places for Iraqi refugees and 800 places for Iranians out of Turkey in \996, despite having had needs to resettle 1.250 and 934 of these nationalities. respectively, in

!1Turkey's Asylum


1995. Accordingly, the U.S. State Department in its planning for FY 1995 refugee admissions reported to Congress that "about 500 Iraqis and Iranians will be admitted from Turkey as Priority One UNHCR referrals."

A Five-Day Limit on Filing an Application
Under the new regulations, many foreigners have not been able to file asylum claims at all. The regulations require refugee claimants to apply within five days to local Governorates if they entered the country legally, or, if they entered illegally, 'to present themselves to the Governorates in the city where they entered the country, also within five days. A Foreign Ministry official told USeR, "The police are instructed to implement this regulation in a very strict manner." 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. However, the southeastern segment of the country is under martial law due to an ongoing, bloody conflict between Turkish government forces and the Kurdish guerrillas of the banned Workers Party of Kurdistan (PKK). Therefore, if an Iranian who enters the land border between Turkey and Iran succeeds in traversing what is essentially a war zone and goes to Ankara to claim asylum, he or she is told to turn around and return to the danzers of southeastern Turkey in order to file an e asylum claim at a police station along the border. Iraqis. and Iranians seeking asylum in Turkey are aware of a history of summary treatment in the border regions where the principal concern of Turkish military, police, and gendarmerie (Jandarma) forces is security, and where there is little or no consciousness of the principles and requirements of refugee protection. Iranians and Iraqis of Kurdish ethnicity, in particular, fear that local police and security forces situated in the midst of the conflict in Kurdish southeastern Turkey cannot give them a fair hearing. For example, an Iranian Kurd who bases his refugee claim on persecution arising from his Kurdish separatist activities in Iran is likely not to expect a neutral hearing from a Turkish police or security official engaged in suppressing Kurdish separatism in Turkey. He may also fear a lack of confidentiality in the interview, and worry that he may be deported to Iran together with the information he has provided the Tu;!cish authorities about his political activities there.

. This fear is also present among nonKurdish Iranian political dissidents seeking asylum in Turkey. They fear agreements signed between the Turkish and Iranian governments committing them to share information about political activities of each other's exiles. They fear that such agreements also pave the way for exchanging subversives between the two countries. Among Irani ans in Turkey, there is a strongly held view that such protocols relate to Turkey turning over members of Iranian opposition parties in exchange for Iran turning over PKK members to Turkey. USeR interviewed many Iranians in Turkey who raised these concerns. A former Iranian army officer told USCR a detailed story of refusing to order his troops to fire on a group of Iranian Kurdish peshmargas (the guerrillas). However, after finishing his story, he said, "I went to the Turkish police, but I didn't tell them this story. I just said I escaped. I told them nothing poli tical." Another man told USeR that he himself had been a peshmarga in Iran. He pointed to injuries he had sustained in his legs, and expressed fear that the Turkish authorities would hand him over to the Iranian government. He said that when he first crossed into Turkey, "the Turkish police destroyed my documents." Within the first week after arriving, however, he went to the nearest city police station for an asylum interview. However, believing that "the Turkish police are anti-Kurd" and that "if! said I was apeshmarga, I would be rejected," he said. "I didn't give them any specific information. Ijust told them there was no freedom or democracy in Iran." The man's refugee claim was rejected and, at the time of the USeR visit, in October 1995, he was facing deportation. These testimonies of Iranians who have had interviews with the Turkish authorities shed light on a written response the Turkish government made to a USeR inquiry about the interviews. The government said: In their asylum interviews with Turkish authorities, Iranians almost invariably state that they were not involved in any crime or political associations in Iran, that they did not fear persecution if returned to Iran, and they just did not like the Iranian regime and wished to travel abroad to Western countries. These statements for every single Iranian, who enjoys strict confidentiality, are kept in written form: signed and sworn by the applicant himself and the authorized interpreter. No country would grant asylum on the basis of such statements.

11 Turkey's Asylum




• Yozgat




I~;JiArea Under

State of Emergency

Security Concerns Overriding
Turkish government officials stated clearly in conversations with USCR that their overriding concerns related to maintaining security; uncontrolled movement of foreigners into the country was seen as a security threat. An Interior Ministry official said, "Our first consideration is the security of the country. As Turkish citizens, we live in an uncomfortable area. We have to consider the internal security of our country when implementing domestic law and regulations. All our regulations respond to the logic of stabilizing the security of our country." He remarked, "If there were no terrorist incidents in Turkey, then there would not be so much work to do. In such a situation, even the five-day period would not be necessary." As it is, however, control of the movement of foreigners in and around the country appears to be of paramount concern. In effect, the Iranian-Turkish border is sealed at Van and Hakkari, and the police are not accepting asylum applications from foreigners there (although persons seeking asylum are still able to cross the border north of Van and in Agri province). This Interior Ministry official also told USCR that "the buses to Ankara [from the east] are controlled. It is usually not possible [for an

undocumented foreigner] to arrive to Ankara without being taken by the police." He said, "When asylum seekers enter from the border, they don't have to travel a long way, because they have to apply to the security authorities where they first enter the country." He said that it takes 15 hours to travel by bus from Van to Istanbul. "Uncontrolled and uninspected travel causes trouble for our country with regard to security," he said. "When an asylum seeker applies to a security officer before being seized by the security officer, it shows his intention." The official told USeR, "If I were a foreigner and came to Turkey, the five-day period would be enough forme to reach the authorities." Iranians who have been interviewed by the police have remarked that much of the questioning in what are supposed to be refugee status determination interviews relates to gathering information about smugglers and other Iranians in Turkey. Some Iranian Kurds say that the Turkish authorities who interviewed them for asylum status interrogated them about the PKK and directly and threateningly accused them of links with the PKK. According to the International Federation ofIranian Refugees and Immigrants Councils (IFIRIC), based on a survey of 80 Iranians who underwent the interview procedure at the police station in Nevsehir, "Many of the questions which

!It Turkey's

Asylum Regulations



were asked were irrelevant to their actual cases and aimed at obtaining information about Iranian political refugee applicants who are currently staying in Turkey. It has even been reported that police interrogators have jokingly passed the remark that 'Rafsanjani is expecting them," (Rafsanjani is the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran).

In early 1996, he reportedly had succeeded in escaping Iran again, and was once more in Turkey seeking recognition by the Turkish authorities.

Appeals of Negative Decisions
Article 6 of the regulations, which sets forth the decision-making procedure of the Interior Ministry, makes no reference to appeals or review of negative decisions. It states only that decisions "shall be communicated to the foreigner by the Governorates" and that "foreigners whose requests are not accepted shall be deported by the Governorates on instructions given by the Ministry of Interior." If a foreigner's claim is rejected, the Ministry ofInteriorsends him or her a written note of rejection, saying that the claimant does not fuifill the criteria of being an asylum seeker. It provides no details regarding the reason for rejection. The denied applicant is given 15 days to leave the country, after which he or she is subject to arrest and deportation. A separate section, Article 29, deals with deportation but seems to be limited to deportations of persons who have already been recognized as refugees or asylum seekers, not to "foreigners" whose asylum claims have been denied. That section gives refugees and asylum seekers 15 days to file objections to deportation orders. It states that "objections shall be taken into consideration and resolved by a higher authority than the one who ruled on the verdict," presumably a higher level still within the Interior Ministry. It does not appear to involve any level of judicial review. UNHCR plays no official role in the internal appeal procedure, and is not even presented with a list of rejected claimants. When it becomes aware of cases in which a negative decision is appealed, and in which UNHCR assesses the claimant to be a refugee, UNHCR does submit letters to the authorities indicating why it believes the person has a valid refugee claim. It appears that some attempt was made in May 1995 to remedy the ambiguity regarding whether rejected claimants even have a right to appeal negative decisions, when the Ministry of Interior issued administrative instructions saying that rejected claimants also have 15 days to object to deportation orders. However, they, like refugees and asylum seekers facing deportation under Article 2.9. are not informed of the reasons for their rejections. and therefore can only guess at

The Five-Day Deadline and Internal Orbit Cases
Disputes among local officials in interpreting the regulations have created "orbit cases." In these cases, a foreigner seeks to apply for asylum in one location and is told to file at another location; he goes to that location only to be told that he should have filed at the location where he initially tried to file his claim. Because of the five-day application deadline, there is no margin for error, and officials have ruled such persons ineligible to apply. In one case, an Iranian, ••••• •••••••• 1 who entered Turkey with a forged passport in March 1995 and directly approached the Ankara police to apply for asylum, was told to apply at the city where he entered because he had entered illegally. He then went immediately to Istanbul, where he had first entered the country. The police in Istanbul told him he had to register for asylum in Ankara because he was residing there. When he returned to Ankara to register, he was told that he had missed the fiveday deadline, and he was deported to Iran. In another case, , an Iranian who arrived in Turkey in December 1994, shortly after the new regulations came into effect. went to the UNHCR office in Ankara after experiencing a problem with the police at the border. UNHCR told him that he had to return to the border area to register his asylum claim, and gave him a police letter. He went to Corum, a "satellite city" commonly used to house Iranian refugees temporarily, pending resettlement. He tried to register with the police in Corum, but was told that he could not apply there, and that he had to go to the border. He was fearful of returning to the border police. And, by that time, the five-day period for registering a claim had expired. He stayed in Corum, apparently known to the Corum police, until he pushed his luck too far by asking for a temporary residence permit. At that point, he was arrested, and transferred to the police in Agri. a town in the border region. On October 14. during USCR's visit to Turkey. he was deported to Iran. and was reportedly arrested upon arrival.

Most deportations appear to take place in summary fashion in the border areas where there is virtually no monitoring.




........ is a widow whose husband was executed by the Iranian authorities in 1980 for his political activities. ~spent one month in solitary confinement, during which time she was tortured. Her son was arrested as a political subversive in 1991 and spent six months injail. Following the arrest of two of her political associates in 1993, she fled the country. Although her political affiliations were with a Kurdish organization, she told the Turkish authorities that she had been a supporter of the Shah. Both UNHCR and Turkey rejected her application. She said that she was worried that Turkish security officials might inform the Iranian authorities about her, and that because of border agreements between the two countries, she feared deportation. "I did not give all my information because of fear," she said. Photo: USCR/B. Frelick

what information they might need to provide in order to reassert their refugee claims. It is also not clear whether a foreigner can successfully assert an objection to a deportation order by challenging the procedural grounds for denying access to the asylum procedure, namely, the five-day filing deadline. . Article 29 permits deportation of refugees and asylum seekers legally residing in Turkey for reasons of national security or- public order. Given the martial law regime in the southeastern part of the country, this provision could conceivably be read in an overly broad manner that would exclude genuine refugees from protection and subject them to refoulement.

to border areas to apply for asylum and were subsequently apprehended by the Turkish police and returned to Iran or Iraq without being given an opportunity to file asylum claims. In some cases, UNHCR had completed its assessment of the refugee claims prior to the claimants' return to the border area. On April 24, 1995, Turkish police arrested three such Iranians recognized as refugees by UNHCR, ••• ::::::~,~ ............. :::: ' and : ,as they were attempting to travel back to Agri, near the Iranian border, . to file their asylum claims. The Turkish police took their documents, including referral letters from UNHCR, and refouled them to Iran. During 1995, UNHCR reported that 78 persons (42 cases) whom UNHCR recognized as refugees were subjected to refoulement by the Turkish authorities: 42 Iranians (33 cases), 31 Iraqis (16 cases), and 5 of other nationalities (3 cases). UNHCR documented the forced repatriations of another 47 persons (27 cases) who were deported in 1995 without having had a chance to file asylum claims despite having indicated a desire to do so: 20 Iranians ( 17 cases) and 17 Iraqis (10 cases).


and the Denial of Access to Asylum Procedures

Most deportations appear to take place in summary fashion in the border areas where there is virtually no monitoring of the practice, as opposed to the outcome of a due process with adequate oversight. A number of cases have been documented in which Iranians and Iraqis who had succeeded in reaching Ankara were told to return

l! Turkey's Asylum


In 1995, 635 Iranians approached the Turkish authorities seeking recognition as asylum seekers. A total of 137 were recognized and provided temporary residence permits with the expectation that they would seek refugee determination interviews with UNHCR; another 31 were rejected and notified to leave the country. UNHCR registered 486 refugee claims by Iranians during the year (representing 908 persons). During that time, UNHCR recognized 524 cases and rejected 264. 'Statistics provided by UNHCR did not distinguish among the variety of cases that w'ould come under its consideration. At least three different circumstances could lead to a person having a UNHCR refugee status determination: 1) persons who had registered claims before the new regulations came into effect could be considered; 2) persons who approached UNHCR' s Ankara office directly before presenting their claims to the police (UNHCR would normally interview them to determine their refugee status on the same day they registered with UNHCR, provide them with legal counseling, and instruct them to go to the appropriate Turkish police stations to register their claims with the government); and 3) persons who had approached the police first and been referred to UNHCR by the Turkish authorities after having been granted temporary asylum. USCR believes that only a fraction of Iranians in Turkey fearing persecution if returned to Iran have ever approached UNHCR or the Turkish authorities for recognition as refugees. Many Iranians carry valid passports, which allow them to enter Turkey as tourists and stay for three months at a time. They often renew their permission to stay as tourists by crossing back and forth from Bulgaria or Cyprus. Turkey fines, but generally does not expel, those who overstay their tourist period. Many of the Iranians in refugee-like circumstances are also undocumented and live in squalid conditions in urban slums. In the summer of 1994, the Turkish authorities passed a regulation that requires landlords who rent to aliens to inform the aliens that they must report to the local municipality. The effect has been to make it more difficult for Iranians to find housing, and has resulted in overcrowding in the apartments that are rented. Estimates of the number of Iranians in Turkey who might have bonafide fears ofpersecution if returned to Iran have varied greatly. USCR estimates that more than 10,000 may be in such circumstances. This estimate is based on several factors: I) The Turkish government itself, in a letter to USCR, estimates that two million Iranians live in Turkey, although this figure appears to be inflated (the Intergovernmental Consultation on Asylum, Refugees, and Migration Policies in Europe and North America estimates 50,000). 2) A sustained and continuing pattern and practice of intimidation and bias exist that discourage Iranians from applying for asylum. A Turkish academic wrote in 1994, even before the new regulations, that "Officials systematically discouraged Iranians from formally seeking asylum." This situation has grown worse under the new regulations described in this report. 3) A high level of persecution continues to exist in Iran, which led to a refugee recognition rate of 66 percent in 1995 for those who did manage to have a UNHCR interview in Ankara (comparable to the 60 percent asylum approval rate for Iranian asylum seekers in the United States in 1995). Therefore, 4) If the government's estimate of the total number of Iranians in Turkey is even close to accurate, then the percentage of Iranians who actually approach the UNHCR office is infinitesimal. Even if the government's estimate were divided by half, an estimate of 10,000 Iranian refugees in Turkey would amount to only one percent of the Iranian population in the country. USCR maintains that it is likely that most Iranians fearing persecution in their homeland would not seek refugee recognition in Turkey. Some could not meet the five-day filing deadline. Others could reasonably fear that they would be more likely to be forcibly returned to Iran for having registered a claim or that their lives or freedom could be endangered in Turkey for having gained the authorities' attention. On a number of occasions during 1995, UNHCR intervened in cases of Iranians whom the office recognized as refugees, but whom the authorities were in the process of deporting to Iran. A total of 42 UNHCR-recognized Iranian refugees were refouled during the year. Additionally, Turkey expelled at least 20 Iranians who were of concern to UNHCR but who had not yet undergone UNHCR refugee status determinations. In 1995, UNHCR assisted 866 Iranians to resettle in third countries. Another 384 Iranians had been accepted for resettlement. but had not yet departed at the end of the year.


Asylum Regulations

Because of the strictness of Turkey's passport law. rejection of fraudulently documented asylum seekers at the border appears to be standard practice by Turkish border police. Persons carrying false passports or forged Turkish identity documents are not accepted into the asylum procedure and are deported immediately. In fact, in many cases, they are arrested on the charge of using forged documents, hauled into court, and deported.

Iraqi Refugee Claimants New Procedure



Iraqis have had particular difficulty gaining access to the new asylum procedure. At about the same time that the Turkish Council of Ministers promulgated the new asylum regulations, the Minister of Foreign Affairs announced a "one-time solution" for Iraqis who had fled to Turkey since the time of the 1991 Gulf War exodus and who refused to repatriate voluntarily. The one-time solution would enable those Iraqis whom UNHCR recognized to go to the Silopi camp near the Iraqi border before Christmas Day 1994, where they would be allowed to stay until UNHCR could find third-country resettlement opportunities for them. A total of 334 Iraqis responded to the offer to go to Silopi, most of whom were resettled in third countries. Others left the camp spontaneously during the year, apparently seeking to cross into other European countries on their own. The government's one-time solution resulted in confusion about the status of newly arrived Iraqis seeking asylum in Turkey under the new asylum regulations. Although the regulations did not specify any particular nationalities, local police authorities seemed to operate on the assumption that they related only to Iranians. In the first six months of implementation of the new regulations, the Turkish authorities did not accept a single Iraqi asylum application in Sirnak province, the only entry point into Turkey from Iraq. During that same time, about 500 Iraqis sought to present refugee claims to the UNHCR office in Ankara. Finally, the police station in Sirnak, a town along the Iraqi border, began registering some Iraqi asylum requests. However, some Iraqis have reported that the Sirnak police have refused to register them, telling Iraqis that the new regulations do not apply to them. Iraqis seeking to apply after the five-day limit are summarily deported to Iraq.

In 1995, UNHCR reported that 31 Iraqis (16 cases) recognized by UNHCR as refugees were refouled to Iraq and that many others had not been permitted to apply for temporary asylum. Historically, Turkey has not considered Iraqis to fit individualized refugee determination procedures. In 1988, when more than 60,000 Iraqis fled to Turkey, and again in 1991, when the number of Iraqis seeking refuge in Turkey exceeded 450,000, the sheer number ofIraqi asylum seekers precluded individualized refugee determinations. Aside from the numbers, however. the Turkish authorities consistently resisted applying the refugee designation to Iraqis, insisting on its geographically restrictive interpretation of the term, and not wanting to acknowledge the obligations under international law that apply to persons recognized as refugees. regardless of nationality. The existence of the safe haven zone in northern Iraq has also 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, despite the internecine turmoil among the Kurdish political factions there. Summary treatment of Iraqis in the border region could also be due to the widely held presumption among Turkish border authorities that Iraqis are economic migrants. and that the dire economic conditions in Iraq are the primary reason Iraqis are seeking to leave the country. USCR asked an Iranian Kurd who had lived in northern Iraq for two years before seeking asylum in Turkey why he and other foreign Kurds in Turkey didn't go to the Kurdish zone in northern Iraq. He replied, "Many don't like the government in northern Iraq and escaped from it because of political differences. Some are communists, others belong to fundamentalist groups. Some are economic. They don't want to go back. They have no prospects. no house, no money. But some fear persecution. The new Kurdish government in Iraq persecutes Kurds." By the end of 1995, under the new regulations, 1,014 Iraqis had approached the Turkish authorities seeking recognition as asylum seekers. A total of 53 were recognized, and provided temporary residence penn its with the expectation that they would seek refugee determination interviews with UNHCR; 304 Iraqis were rejected and notified to leave the country, a screening approval rate of 17 percent. Most of the cases, 524. were still in some stage of the screening process; 88 cases had not been evaluated; and 45 had been withdrawn. During 1995, 2.720 Iraqis (1.203 cases)

!! Turkey's Asylum


approached the UNHCR office seeking recognition as refugees. UNHCR recognized 287 Iraqi cases and rejected 895, for an approval rate of 24 percent.

able to determine if the person is a genuine asylum seeker or not." Therefore, Turkey wi lIingly accepts UNHCR's determination that a person Turkey has recognized as an asylum seeker is not genuine. However, the reverse does not hold. When UNHCR says "yes" and the government says "no" on the genuineness of a particular claim, the government does not defer to UNHCR. Here, according to the Turkish authorities, the same credibility issue is raised; if the assessments of UNHCR and Turkey differ, the authorities surmise, they must be based on differing stories given by the claimant to the government and UNHCR. However, there are a significant number of cases in which UNHCR has recognized as a refugee a foreigner who was not recognized by Turkey as an asylum seeker merely for having failed to meet the five-day filing deadline. In such cases, the Turkish government never considered the merits of the claim, but nevertheless subjected to refoulement persons whom UNHCR recognized as genuine refugees. USCR intervened with the Turkish authorities on behalf of the following cases, compiled by the Iranian Refugees' Alliance, during USCR's visit to Turkey in October 1995.2 Each of the Iranians had been recognized as a refugee by UNHCR and offered resettlement to a third country; each nevertheless had been denied an interview by the Turkish police for having failed to meet the five-day filing limit. In two cases, described below. the refugee claimants were denied an interview for having failed to apply within the five-day limit even though they had arrived and registered their claims with UNHCR before the new regulations came into effect. Each person was facing deportation to Iran at the time of USCR's visit: was registered with UNHCR on November 25, 1994, before the announcement of the new regulations. Because his arrival predated the new regulations, he was told to go to one of the satellite cities, Eskishehir, and to return for his UNHCR interview on December 13, 1994. Three days prior to his scheduled UNHCR interview, the police told him to go to one of the border towns. UNHCR recommended that he stay until they could resolve his case. After two months, however, UNHCR also told him to go to the border town of Agri, where he went and registered with the police. Forty days after registering with the Agri police, he was issued a deportation order based on having failed to lodge an asylum appli-

Disagreements between the Government and UNHCR
In a written response to a USCR inquiry about the new regulations, the government stated that in all cases in which the UNHCR offi-ce intervenes to inform the government "that the applicant had given a totally different statement to the UNHCR," indicating that his or her life would be in danger if returned, the deportation orders are not carried out, and Turkish authorities reevaluate the cases. Government representatives in Ankara responded more guardedly to the question about disazreements with UNHCR. The Ministry of " Interior official told USCR, "The information provided to us and the UNHCR should be parallel," suggesting that if the asylum applicant told the Turkish police one thing and UNHCR something different, the applicant's credibility must be questioned. The Foreign Ministry official said, "We need to meet the interests of both parties," and said that when disagreements occur between Turkey and UNHCR about whether a person has a valid asylum claim, "We put these problem cases on the table." It is noteworthy that the only instances in which the Turkish authorities accept UNHCR decisions without reservation occur when UNHCR rejects a claim after the Turkish police made a positive finding that the person was an "asylum seeker." The Foreign Ministry official said, "If they [UNHCR] do not accept the claim, we accept their judgment." Here the distinction in the regulations between "asylum seeker" and "refugee" is critical. Ordinarily, it would seem evident that if a government official determined a refugee claimant to have a well-founded fear of persecution, such a person would be considered to be a "refugee" and protected from refoulement. However, under the Turkish regulations, the determination of a well-founded fear of persecution by the Turkish government only qualifies the applicant as an "asylum seeker," providing him with a temporary resident permit and enabling him to seek recoznition as a refugee both by " UNHCR and a third country willing to resettle him. The Interior Ministry official explained, "When Turkey makes the determination that an illegal foreigner is an asylum seek a, we are not
~ Turkey's Asylum Regulations


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•••••• ., a participant in the Ankara sit-in (see p. 13), holds a photograph of himself that appeared on thefrontpage ofCumhuriyet, a Turkish daily newspaper . •••• practically blind in one eye from his imprisonment in Iran in 1990, says that two other Iranians, an} I •,who were involved in the same political activities as himself, were recognized by UNHCR as refugees, but that he was not. He does not know why he was rejected. After his escape from Iran, wife, was arrested by the Iranian authorities, beaten, and imprisoned for 48 hours. Subsequently she was expelled from her teaching job and her property was confiscated. She escaped from Iran with their two daughters. At the UNHCR interview, she was included as part of her husband's case, and was not interviewed herself. Of his interview with UNHCR,S said, "I am a Kurd and the interviewer was a Turk ... which made the environment urgent and suspicious.... Because of an incompetent translator and the interviewer's repetitive and unrelated questioning, I became worried. My wounded left eye as a result of arrest and torture was uncontrollably twitching. The environment of my prison and torture chamber WAS similar to the UN's small interrogation room and the small doorway and florescent lighting. " Of his interview with the Turkish police, said, "I didn't tell them much because I was afraid of them." . Because of the publicity generated by the sit-in, •••• name is now known by the Iranian authorities.
cation within the required five-day time limit. He was given 15 days to leave Turkey. UNHCR advised him to come to Ankara, where he was put in a hotel while awaiting an exit permit. On October 5, 1995, he was apprehended by the Turkish police. The Turkish police took him to the Iranian embassy together with his identity papers, including a card identifying him as a member of a banned, royalist political opposition party. Iranian embassy officials interrogated him, and issued papers with his photograph on them indicating that he should be handed over to the authorities tity papers. in Iran together with his iden-

2) SF entered Turkey in March 1995 and registered with UNHCRonMarch 14, 1995. He was instructed to go to Agri, near the Iranian border. He anived in Agri on March 20 and registered with the police the following day. On March 22, the police apprehended him and returned him to Iran without obtaining a deportation order. He was told that his deportation was for having failed to register his asylum claim within the five-day limit.

!!i Turkey's Asylum


He was imprisoned and tortured by the Iranian authorities upon arrival. He managed to escape from the Revolutionary Court and fled again to Turkey, where he again registered with, the police in Agri. The police took photographs of the torture marks on his body, and collected medical reports attesting to his torture. After two weeks, UNHCR advised him to go to Ankara to await resettlement to Australia. He was put in a hotel in Ankara, but arrested by the Turkish police on October 5, 1995. The police took him to the Iranian embassy. Turkish police coerced him to submit his identity documents to the Iranian embassy. Iranian embassy officials interrogated him and then issued papers with his photograph indicating that he should be turned over to the authorities in Iran. 3) registered with UNHCR on November 24, 1994, before the new regulations went into effect. He went to the satellite city of Corum, where he reported to the police on December 9, 1994. After four months there, the Interior Ministry ordered him to go to the border town of Agri. He went to Agri on April 24, 1995 and reported to the police there. He was ordered deported on June 5, 1995 because he had failed to lodge an asylum application within the five-day time limit. He was given 15 days to leave Turkey. UNHCR advised him to go to Ankara and to obtain a visa to Norway. He was apprehended by the Turkish police on October 5, 1995. He was taken to the Iranian embassy, coerced by Turkish police to submit his identity documents, and was interrogated by Iranian embassy officials. The Iranian officials then issued papers wi th his photograph on them saying that he should be handed over to the authorities in Iran with his papers. 4) arrived at Agri around May 1, 1995, and registered with the Agri police 6 or 7 days after his arrival. He was served with a deportation order on June 23, 1995 based on his failure to apply for asylum within five days of arriving in Turkey. UNHCR advised him to go to Ankara. He obtained a visa to Australia and had a plane ticket to fly to Australia on October 15, 1995. However. he was apprehended by the police on October S. and was subsequently taken to the Iranian embassy. Embassy officials interrogated him and issued papers with his photograph saying that he should be handed over to the authorities in Iran. 5) • was registered by

UNHCR on May 19, 1995, and approached the police in Agri on May 24, 1995. He was served with a deportation order for having failed to apply for asylum within five days of arriving. UNHCR advised him to go to Ankara. He obtained a visa for Canada shortly after and was waiting for an exit permit when he was apprehended on October 5, 1995. Turkish officials took him to the Iranian embassy, where the Turkish police coerced hi m to submit his documents. Iranian embassy officials interrogated him. The embassy officials obtained the telephone number of his relatives in Iran and made a phone call to them. He was then issued papers with his photograph on them indicating that he should be handed over to the authorities in Iran with his papers. All five of these Iranians, after being apprehended on October 5, 1995 in Ankara, were taken to the border town of Agri. Cases number 4 and 5 were handed over to the Iranian authorities within a few hours of arriving in Agri. The other three were taken to a hotel in Agri pending a review of their cases by the Interior Ministry. The delay in consideration of the first three cases, combined with the interventions ofUNHCR and NGOs, including USCR, succeeded in preventing their refoulement. The three were allowed to depart for third countries in October and November 1995. Cases 4 and 5 were not so lucky. however. They were both refouled to Iran on October 7. Case 5 succeeded in escaping Iran again three weeks later. With the assistance ofUNHCR. he approached the Turkish authorities again, was recognized as an asylum seeker by Turkey and as a refugee by UNHCR, and allowed to depart Turkey for third-country resettlement on November 7. These cases are remarkable in a number of respects. One noteworthy feature is that all five had resettlement offers from third countries: two to Canada; two to Australia; and one to Norway. Although four of the five were, eventually, allowed to resettle in third countries, the fact that all five were threatened with deportation, despite offers of third-country resettlement, and that two were. in fact, refouled, demonstrates that offers of third-country resettlement are not, in themselves. guarantees against refoulement. The deportation orders resulted. rather. from the insistence on the strict applicability of the five-day filing deadline. even though two of the five had entered the country before the new regulations came into effect. These cases also suggest that deference is not given to UNHCR in cases where there is a


Asylum Regulations

On August 2, 1995, a group of 161 Iranians staged a sit-in at the offices of the United Socialist Party (BSP) in Ankara to protest UNHCR rejection of their refugee claims and to seek a reprieve from their deportation orders back to Iran (most of the sit-in participants had registered their asylum claims before the new regulations went into effect). The first families gathering together at the BSP offices had initially done so in search of sanctuary.' However, as more arrived, the group decided to band together in protest, managing to gamer publicity in Turkish newspapers and on television, and, in the process, made their identities known to the Iranian authorities. Having rejected their refugee claims based on earlier interviews, UNHCR faced a difficult decision: whether to recognize them as refugees sur place based on their participation in a highly publicized sit-in, understanding that such recognition could encourage other rejected claimants to take similar actions. UNHCR held to its position of rejecting the claims of the 161, saying that it had interviewed most of the applicants at least twice, and found that they did not meet the refugee standard. UNHCR argued that its very rejection of these claimants would convey the message to the Iranian authorities that they had not, in fact, been active in opposition activities inside Iran, and that UNHCR did not see any reason that they should fear return to Iran. UNHCR also offered to monitortheirretum through its office in Tehran. During USCR's October visit to Turkey, USCR met with the Iranians at the site of the sit-in and interviewed most of them about their experiences. Based on their testimonies alone, USCR believed that many of the sit-in participants presented credible claims, but recognized that UNHCR had more resources at its disposal for a thorough assessment of the Iranians' claims. However, USCR was convinced that the sit-in would be perceived as an overt political act by the Iranian authorities, that the identities of the sit-in participants were known to the Iranian authorities, and that they did, consequently, have a well-founded fear of persecution upon return to Iran, not necessarily for acts committed while living in Iran, but for their activities in Turkey. USCR appealed to both the Turkish government and UNHCR to seek a humanitarian resolution of the sit-in. On June 28, 1996, at about 1:00 am, Turkish security forces broke up the sit-in and rounded up more than 80 of the remaining participants, including a sub-group holding a hunger strike since June 3 at the offices of the Human Rights Association. As this report was going to press, their situation was uncertain. The authorities divided up the protesters and sent them to "satellite cities" outside Ankara, where refugee claimants generally are told to wait pending the outcome of their claims. However, it appeared that the deportation orders against the participants had not been canceled, and that they were in danger of being deported to Iran.

A child sleeps amid the belongings of the sit-in participants.

USeR/B. Frelick


Turkey's Asylum Regulation::



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disagreement regarding refugee status. Unlike the cases in which the disagreement between the government and UNHCR relates to different interpretations of the merits of the refugee claim, in these cases the Ministry of Interior did not examine the merits of the claim but rather denied the cases solely on the procedural ground of the claimants having failed to register their claims within the required time period. That the government eventually relented in three of the five cases prior to refoulement provides a small glimmer of hope that the authorities are willing to bend the rules on occasion and that they can be amenable to outside intervention. How much last-minute intervention is required, and whether it can be brought to bear in time, remains the question. A more recent case indicates that the problem persists. Another Iranian, Mehrdad Kavoussi, a former long-term political prisoner, entered Turkey in August 1995, but failed to file an asylum claim within five days. He approached UNHCR for assistance. and was accompanied by a UNHCR lawyer when he went to the Agri police station to register his asylum claim on April 25, 1996. However, he was immediately arrested and deported to Iran the same day, despite protests by UNHCR and Amnesty International (which issued an Urgent Action alert on his behalf), among others.

Cooperation between the Governments of Turkey and Iran
The cases collected above also indicate that the Turkish police authorities have violated one of the most fundamental principles of refugee protection by taking asylum seekers (in this case, UNHCR-recognized refugees) together with politically incriminating documents to the Iranian embassy, where Iranian officials interrogated them. This shows an egregious disregard on the part of the Turkish authorities for the safety of Iranians seeking asylum from persecution in Iran. It also indicates a close level of cooperation between officials of the two governments with regard to nationals of each other's countries residing in the territory of the other. The Iranian and Turkish governments have signed several protocols in recent years aimed apparently at curbing the activities of the respective countries' opposition groups suspected of operating in each other's territories. Although the specific impact of protocols on extradition and border control between Turkey and Iran on asylum seekers is not clear. Iranians seeking asylum

in Turkey expressed to USCR their view that their safety in the country was endangered as a result of such agreements. A protocol signed in September 1992 established a border committee with representatives from each government to meet every two months to discuss border security. The committee's mandate included stopping unauthorized border crossings between the two countries. In December 1993, Iran and Turkey signed a protocol on border security outlining steps for "cooperation against terrorism by both countries." In late December of that year, Turkish police in Ankara reportedly rounded up and deported about 50 Iranians whose residence permits had expired. Included, according to NGO sources in Turkey, were at least four dissidents who were seeking refugee recognition in Turkey. In early January 1994, Amnesty International reported that police took to the border and expelled to Iran two Iranian asylum seekers who had sought UNHCR protection in Turkey. In an apparent quid pro quo, in March, Iran reportedly turned over four members of the PKK to Turkey. An article in Iran's official newspaper. Keyhan Hawai, dated May 7, 1994, suggests that such a quid pro quo exists involving not only the trading of information but also of political exile activists between Iran and Turkey. The article said, "Following the meeting of Mohammad Hashemi, deputy foreign minister of our country, with the Turkish foreign minister, Ankara announced that it has handed over a number of Iranian opposition members to Tehran." In response to a USCR inquiry, the Turkish government wrote, "There exists no agreement between Turkey and Iran pertaining to the sharing of information about Iranians living in Turkey. Instead, the bilateral agreement to which you may be referring focuses on Turkish-Iranian joint cooperation in combatting terrorism." However, following the signing of a third protocol on border security between Turkey and Iran on June 14, 1994, the Turkish Minister of Interior said, "No element acting against the Islamic Republic ofIran in Turkey will be allowed to remain on Turkish territory." In response, the Iranian Interior Minister reportedly said, "Tehran is well aware of Turkey's problems and regards Turkey's foes as its own." An article in the Turkish paper, Evrensel, on April 21, 1996, suggested that an agreemen t between Iran and Turkey to exchange dissidents was neither confirmed nor denied by the Turkish government, but that Iranian officials were ac-

i! Turkey's

Asylum Regulations

knowledging it. The article quoted Dr. Saeed Rejaie, a representative of the Assembly of the Islamic Republic who was part of a delegation traveling with the Iranian Foreign Minister, as saying, "This exchange [of dissidents between the two countries] is a mutual agreement. If the government of Turkey does not cause any problems, it will become reality." Regardless of the level of cooperation between Turkish and Iranian authorities, strong evidence exists that agents of the Iranian government have taken an active interest in Iranians seeking asylum in Turkey. The clearest case pointing directly to agents ofIran occurred in 1988 when a kidnapped Iranian dissident was found bound and gagged in the trunk of a car bearing Iranian diplomatic license plates at the crossing point from Turkey into Iran. The two Iranian diplomats caught redhanded were expelled. A number of politically active Iranian exiles in Turkey have been assassinated in recent years (and in other countries as well). In August 1993, two Iranians-one, a recognized refugee, the other, an asylum seeker-were killed in Turkey, reportedly by Iranian agents. More recently, on January 4, 1994, Taha Kermanj, a member of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, was shot and killed near his home in Corum, Turkey. He had been recognized as a refugee by UNHCR and was about to be resettled in Sweden at the time of his death. He was believed to have fled to Turkey in 1993 from northern Iraq, where he had reportedly received death threats from Iranian agents. On February 20, 1996, Zahra Rajabi, a Paris-based official of the National Council of Resistance, an Iranian opposition group, was assassinated-shot five times at point blank rangein her apartment in Istanbul where she had been on a mission to assist Iranian refugees in Turkey. The group accused Iranian agents of carrying out the murder.

Living Conditions for Asylum Seekers
The regulations state that persons who are recognized as asylum seekers shall be "hosted in a guest house." In practice, in most cases, it appears that registered refugees and asylum seekers are required (at their own expense, although UNHCR provides some assistance) to move to and to live in one of about 20 "satellite cities" designated by pol icc. where they are required to sign in daily.

So far, there is only one guest house, located in Yozgat, which is sometimes used for people who appear to be in some danger in Turkey and are in need of additional protection. It was described by one official as "very strict," but "secure." USCR interviewed an Iranian who spent six weeks in the Yozgat "guest house." His circumstances were somewhat different from those of recognized asylum seekers, however. He had arrived in Turkey before the new regulations went into effect, and UNHCR had rejected his refugee claim. With no prospects of being recognized as a refugee in Turkey nor of being resettled from Turkey through official channels, he tried to leave Turkey illegally with the intention of seeking asylum in Sweden where he had a brother who was a recognized refugee. He was caught by the Turkish police, however, and spent 15 days in jail. During that time, members of his political party in Europe faxed the government and UNHCR seeking recognition for him and a cancellation of the deportation order against him. He was transferred from the j ail to Yozgat. Perhaps due to the contrast with his immediately preceding jail experience, this man described Yozgat in almost glowing terms. He described it as a house that had an entry gate, but no fence. He said that the residents were permitted to leave with a police escort. At the time he was there, he said that it held about 25 foreigners. He said that most, like himself, were Kurds. He said that the residents included two Russians, and •••• who had been there for five years because Russia refused to accept them, and a Sierra Leonean, , who had been there for 23 months (and in the Silopi camp on the Iraqi border for 13 months before that). He said that 15 of the persons in Yozgat were UNHCRrecognized refugees waiting for resettlement, most of whom were Iranians. Of the rest, he said that some, like himself, had been caught trying to go to Europe, but that others had presented themselves to the police. Although he was not aware of UNHCR representatives visiting the guest house during the time he was there. the Iranian said that UNHCR sent money to support the camp residents, and that food, clothing, and medicine were all satisfactory. He said that the police were responsible for the guest house, and generally treated them well. During the time he was there. no one was deported from Yozgat. Fearing that he would be deported. however. he escaped from Yozgat
~ Turkey's Asylum ReguLations

and was residing without proper documents Ankara at the time of the USCR interview.


producing countries. However, in Turkey, tens of thousands ofIraqi Kurds waited in dismal refugee camps for resettlement offers that were not forth-

Mass Influxes
Among the most vague, and mosttroubling, of the provisions in the new regulations is the section dealing with mass influxes. The section is entitled "The Precautions to be taken against a possible mass influx .... " Article 8 states flatly that "it is essential to stop such a movement and the advance of asylum seekers at the borders." It calls upon the authorities to "take necessary and effective measures to do so." This is in marked contrast to internationallaw and practice. The Executive Committee of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, comprised of governments, meets formally to adopt conclusions on how states ought to interpret the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol. Conclusion Number 22 declares that "in cases of large-scale influx, asylum seekers should be admitted to the State in which they first seek refuge and if that State is unable to admit them on a durable basis, it should always admit them at least on a temporary basis." Conclusion 22 further declares that "in all cases the fundamental principle of non-refoulement-including non-rejection at the frontier-must be scrupulously observed." Turkey's new regulations codify the country's practice relating to mass influx since 1991. When the first large-scale infl ux of Iraqi Kurd refugees arrived in 1988, Turkey opened its borders, consistent with UNHCR Executive Committee conclusions on mass influxes. Implicit in UNHCR's Executive Committee conclusions is the notion of international burdensharing, that countries fortunate enough not to be on the frontline of mass influxes would come to the aid of countries such as Turkey who do find themselves the immediate neighbor of refugee

In 1991, Turkey resolved not to repeat what it saw as its mistake in 1988. It did what Article 8 now calls for: it stopped the mass influx cold, on the border. A U.S. Senate staff report written at that time said:

If the refugees had been permitted to cross the border-even by half a mile-to enter more hospitable Turkish valleys and facilities, some of the tragic loss of life could have been minimized during those desperate early days in April.'
In another departure from accepted international practice, Article II states that "reception centers for the sheltering of the asylum seekers and those who take refuge in Turkey shall be established by the Governorates at nearest possible locations to the borders as determined by the Ministry ofInterior in coordination with the Turkish General Staff' (emphasis added). Generally, host governments seek to remove refugees from border areas where they might become subject to cross-border attack or where the government of the refugee-producing state could interpret their presence as a provocation. The UNHCR Executive Committee issued a formal Conclusion, Number 48, saying that in order to protect refugee camps, they should be located "whenever possible a reasonable distance from the frontier of the country of origin." Article 26 says that "at the conclusion of a war, armed conflict or crisis the repatriation of the refugees ...shall be carried out. ... " Article 26 does not say anything about the conditions for repatriation, the voluntariness of the repatriation, or whether international organizations with a mandate to assist in voluntary repatriation of refugees, namely UNHCR, ought to be involved in facilitating repatriation in a way that promotes the safety and dignity of returning refugees.

!!i Turkey'S Asylum


Conclusion and Recommendations

After more than a year of implementation, it is clear that Turkey has not yet succeeded in establishing an asylum and refugee determination procedure that instills confidence either among foreigners seeking asylum in Turkey oron the part of international observers. Responsibility for handling refugee claimants has been assigned to a division of the Interior Ministry within the General Directorate of Security. The bias of government officials involved with the asylum procedure appears overwhelmingly to be one of maintaining Turkey's security and of not harming relations with neighboring refugee-producing countries. Notwithstanding the validity of security concerns and good foreign relations, refugee protection is fundamentally a human rights concern, and, as difficult as it may be, governments need to carve out a special place where fearful and traumatized claimants can feel secure, have a fair hearing, and be given the opportunity to find safe refuge. It is in this spirit that USCR makes the following recommendations.

2. The Five-Day Deadline for Applying for Asylum
The five-day deadline for applying for asylum in Turkey creates an arbitrary procedural bar to asylum for persons who might be genuine refugees. As such, it violates the prohibition in the Refugee Convention on the return of refugees to persecution, an obligation acknowledged in the Turkish regulations. Therefore, a) Any time limit on filing asylum claims ought to be abolished. b) Although USeR objects, in principle, to illlY arbitrary time limits on filing asylum claims, if the above reform is not instituted, the Turkish authorities could take certain steps to make the current requirements less draconian, even if they still would be insufficient to assure satisfactory adherence to standards of refugee protection. For example, the time limit could be expanded to 90, 120, or 180 days as a means of giving foreigners greater opportunity to learn the filing requirements and to locate and travel to the appropriate place to file the claim. c) If Turkey is unwilling to abolish or to lengthen the deadline on applying for asylum (which USeR believes to be a sine qua non of legitimacy), there are other possible ways in which the time limit could be amended to make this provision somewhat less inflexible. Rather than having the failure to meet the time limit preclude a foreigner from applying for asylum, failure to meet a time limit could be used not to bar access to the asylum procedure but rather as a negative factor that would be taken into consideration in evaluating the asylum claim. The regulations could also be changed to allow for "good cause" exceptions for asylum seekers who did not apply in a timely fashion after arriving in the country, such as medical conditions or time spent seeking legal counselor in traveling to "wrong" locations (see Recommendation number 4). 3. Refugees Sur Place Refugees sur place are people who did not leave their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of persecution. but who became refugees at a later date either due to changed circumstances in

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1. The Double Standard in Treatment ofEuropeans and Non-Europeans
The distinction between "refugees" and "asylum seekers" in the Turkish regulations commits the Turkish government to a greater level of responsibility toward Europeans than toward non-Europeans faced wi th the same threats to their safety. It is ironic that Turkey, a country that has, at times, felt excluded from membership in the European "club," would devise a double standard in its treatment of foreigners that would have the effect of favoring Europeans as the only persons eligible to be recognized as refugees by Turkey, and of discriminating against non-Europeans. Therefore, a) USCR calls upon the Turkish government to drop its geographical reservation to its accession to the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol. b) USeR further recommends that the Turkish government amend its asylum procedures to treat all foreigners equally, regardless of national origin. dropping the regulatory distinction between "asylum seeker" and "refugee" status based on the geographical origin of the refugee claimant.

recommends that the Turkish government amend its asylum procedures to treat all foreigners equally, regardless of national origin.


!!i Turkey's Asylum


the home country or as a result of actions they took in their country of residence. Applying an arbitrary time limit to persons in such circumstances would deny them the protection they need at the time when they actually became refugees. Therefore, a) If a time limit is retained, an exception should be made in the regulations to take into account changed circumstances in the home country or occurrences in Turkey that would lead a person to have a well-founded fear of persecution upon return to his or her country of origin. b) The Turkish government should give temporary residence permits to the Iranians who were rounded up by Turkish security forces on June 28 at the sit-in at the United Socialist Party and Human Rights Association offices (see box, p. 13). They should be permitted to pursue their asylum claims with the Turkish and UNHCR authorities. Their claims should be adjudicated, on a case-by-case basis, in light of the new circumstances arising from the sit-in itself. Reconsideration of their claims should take into account evidence that the identities and affiliations of the sit-in participants have come to the attention of the Iranian authorities.

b) Although USCR believes that there should not be any geographic filing requirement, if the Turkish authorities insist on maintaining such a requirement, they could make it somewhat less onerous and less confusing (i.e., unclear about what locality is responsible for accepting the asylum application with the result that "orbit" cases miss the filing deadline) by allowing the applicant to file a notice of intent to apply for asylum at local Governorates, followed by a complete application at a designated in-land site where the full asylum interview would take place at a later date. c) Although USCR believes that the geographic filing requirement should be eliminated entirely, if the above alternatives are not acceptable, USCR recommends that, at the least, Turkey should provide exceptions for undocumented foreigners who fear that they would be harmed in the province of first arrival in Turkey. Such claims should be considered credible if the province to which (or through which) a foreigner is expected to go is under martial law. d) Another alternative worth exploring would be to locate one or more centralized reception centers in safe locations where foreigners seeking asylum could come, receive legal counseling, file their claims, be housed temporarily, and undergo refugee determination interviews both with the government authorities and with UNHCR.

The five-day deadline for applying for . asylum in Turkey creates an arbitrary procedural bar to asylum for persons who might be genuine refugees.

4. Geographic Filing Requirements
The regulations require undocumented foreigners to file asylum claims in the nearest "Governorates" to the points at which they entered the country; foreigners entering with valid travel documents are permitted to apply in the places where they are residing in Turkey. Because ten of the provinces in the border region with Iraq and Iran are under a State of Emergency and cannot be considered to be safe, this requirement potentially places asylum seekers in danger. It also contributes to confusion about which authorities are responsible for conducting initial asylum interviews. This has resulted in some applicants missing the five-day filing deadline and being denied access to the asylum procedure. Therefore, a) The rule requiring undocumented foreigners to file in the Governorate nearest the point of entry should be lifted, and undocumented foreigners should be permitted to apply for asylum with the police station nearest where they are residing in the country. The current regulations allow foreigners with valid documents to apply in this way; this change would allow undocumented foreigners to do the same.

5. Deportation
Because Article 29 relates to deportation of recognized refugees and asylum seekers legally residing in Turkey, it is not at all clear how it relates to foreigners whose asylum' claims are rejected. Ironically, the regulation appears to authorize deportations of persons whom Turkish authorities have recognized as having credible fears of persecution, but not to authorize deportations of persons whom have not been so recognized. In practice. however, deportation of non-recognized refugees and asylum seekers appears to be common, although not weII documented. The regulations also permit deportations for reasons of national security or public order. Given the martial law regime in the southeastern part of the country, this provision could conceivably be read in an overly broad manner that would exclude genuine refugees from protection and subject them to refoulement. Therefore.

!! Turkey's

Asylum Regulations

a) Any deportation on national security grounds of a recognized refugee or asylum seeker legally residing in Turkey should be limited strictly to the clearest cases based on specific evidence tying the individual refugee to specific security threats. In making the decision whether to deport such a refugee, the potential harm the refugee would face must be weighed against the gravity of the security threat the refugee represents. b) The regulations should clearly allow rejected asylum seekers to appeal their deportation orders to ensure that they are carried out within the framework of the UN Refugee Convention, namely, that no person can be returned or expelled to the frontiers of territories where his or her life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

failed to meet Turkey's stringent filing requirements, effective advocacy by nongovernmental organizations and intervention by UNHCR represent their last, and perhaps only hope. The Turkish authorities have at various times harassed groups, such as the International Federation of Iranian Refugees and Immigrants Councils-Turkey Branch (IFIRIC), raided their offices, arrested their members, and confiscated their files. Additional pressure is on UNHCR, as well, as that agency, too, now must hurry to meet Turkish deadlines. UNHCR's refugee status determination -for recognized asylum seekers as well as unrecognized---can mean the difference between permanent protection in a third country and forced return to their country of origin. Because of the pressure to meet the time requirements of the new regulations, the chances for erroneous status determinations have increased. Therefore, a) UNHCR should provide rejected c1aimants with the reasons for the rejection of their refugee claims and provide them with an opportunity to rebut negative findings. b) Turkey should respect the role of NGOs operating within Turkey as guardians of the rights and humanitarian needs of foreigners seeking asylum, and allow them to operate openly.

6. Disagreements between the Government and UNHCR on Refugee Claims
Given the tensions in the region and fears that many claimants in Turkey have about the confidenti ality of the interviews and impartiality of the security authorities charged with interviewing and determining refugee claims, it should not be unexpected that some might withhold important information relevant to their claims from the Turkish authorities. That discrepancies may emerge in accounts given by refugee claimants to the Turkish authorities and to UNHCR should not, in itself, be grounds for dismissing the claim as lacking credibility, Therefore, a) The Turkish government should defer to UNHCR when UNHCR determines that a person has a bona fide refugee claim. b) In cases where Turkey is unwilling to defer to UNHCR's recognition of a claimant's status, it could. on the advice ofUNHCR and with the cooperation of third countries willing to accept them, order rejected claimants to be deported to third countries rather than to the UNHCRrecognized refugee's country of origin. The government would have to provide enough flexibility in the timing of the deportation order to enable UNHCR to make what, in effect, would be an arrangement for third-country resettlement.

The Turkish government should defer to UNHCRwhen UNHCR determines that a person has a bona fide refugee claim.

8. Old Cases
Considerable confusion exists among asylum seekers as well as Turkish officials about the requirements of the new regulations. The regulations make no provision indicating what procedures ought to be followed for foreigners who arrived in Turkey before the new regulations went into effect. In fact, Turkish officials began adjudicating asylum claims in July 1994, five months before the regulations were published. But the regulations themselves made no allowance for a transition period. Therefore, a) The Turkish government should clarify that persons who had registered with UNHCR prior to November30, 1994 and who, according to the previous practice, had been recognized as refugees by UNHCR (even if the status detennination occurred after the regulations went into effect), should be eligible for temporary residence permits and allowed to pursue third-country resettlement. b) Foreigners who can establish that they arrived in Turkey prior to November 30, 1994

7. Role of UNHCR and Local NGOs
For those refugee claimants who are fearful and suspicious of the Turkish authorities or who have

!!Thrkey's Asylum



should be allowed to register asylum claims with the authorities in the Governorates in which they reside without regard to time limits.

9. The Demand for Resettlement
Turkey's asy lum regulations are predicated on the notion that no non-European refugees will be allowed to stay in Turkey other than temporarily, pending a resettlement offer from a third country. This requirement makes temporary protection in Turkey contingent on the willingness of third countries to resettle refugees entering Turkey. As unfair as it may seem in terms of the luck of geography, international law is clear on this point: the obligation not to return a refugee to persecution-nonreJoulement-is a binding requirement on all countries whether or not they have ratified the UN Refugee Convention or attached geographical reservations to it. International law demands no such requirement from third countries to resettle refugees. Resettlement is discretionary. and those few countries that do resettle refugees exercise great latitude in determining which, and how many, they admit. Therefore, a) Turkey should decouple its offer of temporary asylum to foreigners it recognizes as having valid asylum claims from the need to have an offer of third-country resettlement. b) Notwithstanding the desirability of promoting resettlement to third countries for those persons for whom third-country resettlement would be the most appropriate durable solution, Turkey should also recognize that many asylum seekers from neighboring countries may have family links and cultural ties in Turkey, and that Turkey itself might in some cases be the most appropriate venue for them to stay permanently or until they can voluntarily repatriate in safety and dignity. c) UNHCR's annual assessment of resettlement needs for 1996, which seeks 1,900 refugee admissions for refugees out of Turkey 0.100 Iraqis; 800 Iranians), is too minimalist in light of the uncertainty caused by the changed procedures. A higher number would afford UNHCR more tlexibility and give resettlement countries better opportunity for advanced planning for contingencies that could result in greater vulnerability for refugees in Turkey and a higher imperati ve for larger and quicker resettlement opportunities.

d) Other countries, including the United States, ought to respond generously and sympathetically to UNHCR requests to resettle nonEuropean refugees out of Turkey. The need is not only for the protection of these refugees per se, but also for supporting Turkey as a country of first asylum to encourage it to keep its doors open to refugees appearing at its borders. e) The U.S. Department of State should advise the U.S. embassy in Ankara that Priority One cases do not have to be UNHCR-referred. Priority One cases are those of "persons facing compelling security concerns in countries of first asylum," such as the threat of reJoulement, as well as "persons for whom other durable solutions are not feasible and whose status in the place of asylum does not present a satisfactory long-term solution." According to worldwide U.S. processing guidelines, Priority One cases may be "UNHCR-referred or U.S. embassy-identified" (emphasis added), yet the State Department's guidance on refugee admissions from Turkey refers to admissions of Iranians and Iraqis in Turkey as limited to "Priority One UNHCR referrals," suggesting that cases cannot be referred directly by the embassy. Given the constraints on UNHCR in Turkey, the United States should allow itself the flexibility of its own worldwide guidelines to make independent assessments of compelling cases. The United States should also consider increasing its number of refugee admissions from Turkey, especially if it loosens the bottleneck caused by making UNHCR the exclusive gatekeeper of Priority One referrals.

Turkey should decouple its offer of temporary asylum to foreigners from the need to have an offer of third-country resettlement.

10. The Asylum Determination Procedure
The November 1994 regulations layout the Turkish government's procedure for determining asylum status in only the sketchiest terms. Initial interviews are to be taken by local "Governorates," but it is not clear who has actual authority to conduct interviews. In practice, this function has been delegated to local police stations. Nothing is said in the regulations about specialized training or guidance for interviewers of asylum seekers. The procedure and bureaucratic authority for examining the case are also not clear from the regulations, other than to say that "a conclusion shall be reached by the Ministry of Interior," which will consider "the opinions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other relevant ministries and national agencies." In practice. it appears that the responsible department within the Ministry of Interior is the Foreigners Department. which is

!! Turkey's Asylum


situated within the General Directorate of Security. Therefore, a) Because the Ministry of Interior is overwhelmingly concerned with security issues, USCR believes it would be preferable to locate the government body charged with examining refugee claims in an independent agency not tied directly to security functions. perhaps within the Ministry of Justice or the Ministry of Human Rights. b) Interviewers of asylum seekers should be specially trained and exclusively mandated to perform this function. Interviewers should be directly supervised by the central authority making refugee status determinations. In order to promote a nonadversarial atmosphere most conducive to elucidating an asylum claim, this function should not be delegated to police officials. Interviewers should be trained in international refugee law and in human rights conditions in the countries of origin of foreigners seeking asylum in Turkey. UNHCR should be involved in the training of interviewers and adjudicators. c) Refugee claimants should have the right to receive legal counseling and legal representation at their interviews, to submit evidence in support of their claims, and to have competent interpreters with whom they are comfortable. d) Asylum applicants should have the opportunity for a face-to-face interview with the person primarily responsible for making a determination of the refugee claim. Under the current regulations, the decision is based on a paper review of the record. e) Foreigners who are denied asylum seeker status should be given written notification of the reasons for their denial with the opportunity to rebut negative findings. f) The regulations should spell out a clear procedure for the appeal of negative decisions, including judicial review. g) The regulations ought to specify that asylum interviews are to be kept confidential: the petitions of foreigners seeking asylum, interview documents, written comments by interviewers. and all other records relating to the asylum claim should be protected from disclosure to third parties without the written consent of the asylum applicants. Foreigners seeking asylum should be informed that the interview and record of their

claim will be protected from disclosure. This relates most especially to protecting information from being divulged to claimants' home governments,

11. Refugees in Mass Influx Nowhere is the perception of refugees as an unwanted security threat more clear than in the section of the regulations on "precautions to be taken against a possible mass influx." Although concerns about security are not to be minimized, it appears that the present regulations have placed such a premium on security concerns that principles of refugee protection are seriously compromised. Therefore, a) Turkey should drop the language in Article 8 saying that "it is essential to stop such a movement and the advance of asylum seekers at the borders." This language could be read as authorization to push refugees back at the border, a violation of the principle of nonrefoulement. b) Turkey should amend Article 26 on the repatriation of refugees at the conclusion of a war, armed conflict or crisis to specify that repatriation should only take place when conditions in the country of origin are safe and permit dignified repatriation, that repatriation is to be voluntary, and that UNHCR will be invited to facilitate and monitor repatriation programs.

I In our published version of this paper, we have struck out the names of refugees, asylum seekers, refugee claimants, and rejected asylum seekers for their safety. We have raised certain specific names and stories with Turkish and UNHCR officials on a private and confidential basis.

The following case summaries were compiled by the Iranian Refugees' Alliance.

) Staff Report, Subcommittee on Immigration and Refugee Affairs, U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 102nd Congress, First Session. May 20, 199 I, pp.3637.


Turkey's Asylum Regulations

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