Turkish people in Europe
Between March 21st and March 28th, a group of Oxford MSc students from the Department of International Development travelled to Istanbul to conduct fieldwork for a variety of migration-related questions. They met with advisors, specialists, and representatives from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly (HCA), the Ministry of Interior, and the Tarlabasi Community Centre among others. This article was informed by those meetings.
Since March 2011, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over one million Syrians have arrived in Turkey due to the ongoing conflict in Syria. The Turkish Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency reported that over 900 000 Syrians have arrived in Turkey since the conflict began.
Many Syrians who enter Turkey at the southern border are housed, often temporarily, in one of 21 UNHCR camps that have been established at the border. From this point of entry, many Syrians embark on yet another journey: one through the Turkish legal system in search for official “conditional refugee” status.
The primary law concerning refugees in Turkey, the Law on Foreigners and International Protection (No. 6458, ), defines a refugee as: “a person who as a result of events occurring in European countries and owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his or her nationality…”. In effect, this law maintains the “geographical boundaries” outlined in the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees and indicates that the Turkish government grants refugee status and protections only to persons from Europe fleeing persecution.
According to this law, any other individual who enters Turkey due to a well-founded fear of persecution can be granted a “conditional refugee status” after a determination procedure and an evaluation of their application. When Syrian refugees arrive in Turkey and submit applications for asylum, the applications are not considered by a government agency for formal refugee status, but rather, are evaluated by UNHCR staff at one of many evaluations centres across the country. After completing interviews and evaluations, UNHCR staff determine if a case for asylum is “genuine” and whether the applicant qualifies for resettlement in a third country, typically Canada, the United States, Australia, or countries in Europe.