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9.6 Young migrants, refugees and asylum seekers

Children among mass migrants – the Syria crisis

In the past, Turkey has generously opened its borders and supported very large population groups fleeing violence or persecution in neighbouring Bulgaria and Iraq. From May 2011 onwards, tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing the violence in Syria have been allowed to enter Turkey. While some are staying with relatives or otherwise fending for themselves, the great majority are being accommodated in specially-constructed camps in several border provinces. As of October 2012, the total number of Syrians accommodated in a total of fourteen camps in seven provinces had surpassed 100,000, and another two camps were under construction. About a third of the inhabitants of the camps were children. Thanks to the efforts of the Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), line ministries and other government organisations, and the Turkish Red Crescent, the “guests” were being provided with accommodation in the form of containers or tents, complete with sanitary facilities, adequate food and drink, health care facilities, schooling for children and other services. Turkey was also distributing food and other basic needs to thousands of Syrians gathered on the Syrian side of the border. Turkish spending on the emergency so far was put at over 500,000 US dollars.

Irregular migration and trafficking: Foreigners working in Turkey informally cannot benefit from social security and the protection of labour laws, and may be unable to access health services or other public services. Language barriers affect their access to information and culture. The population of informally-employed foreigners can be assumed to include a high proportion of young people, as well as parents who have left children behind in their countries of origin.

Hundreds of young women are known to be trafficked to Turkey annually, mainly from ex-Soviet countries, as forced prostitutes. Girls under eighteen are sometimes involved. The International Organisation for Migration works with the General Directorate of Security (police) and other Turkish institutions (such as the Ministry of Health) to prevent human trafficking and identify and assist victims. Human trafficking is specifically prohibited by the Turkish Penal Code.

Young people and children make up a significant proportion of the irregular migrants who cross Turkish territory each year in a bid to enter Europe as a way of escaping poverty, conflict or oppression in other countries, mostly in south and southwest Asia and East Africa. These young people and children are extremely vulnerable, having no access to social services or assistance, health or education services, protection or participation in community life. Many lose their lives in sea or road accidents or due to the poor conditions in which they live and are transported. In one incident in September 2012, 61 irregular migrants including 31 children died when their boat capsized soon after setting sail for Greece from Ahmetbeyli in the Menderes district of Izmir. Smuggling of migrants is specifically prohibited by the Turkish Penal Code and sentences were increased in 2010.

Irregular migrants who are intercepted are provided with basic shelter and food and may be permitted to apply for asylum. However, even the children among them do not benefit from other rights, such as education. Moreover, large numbers, including children, may be turned back at the border, summarily deported, prosecuted, detained in poor conditions in removal centres and/or not informed about their rights to apply for asylum (Amnesty International: Stranded: refugees in Turkey denied protection, April 2009). The detention of some irregular migrants, including children, in removal centres and in the “transit zone” of Istanbul’s main airport, and the conditions in which this take place, have been criticised roundly by Francois Crepeau, special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants to the UN Human Rights Council. Mr Crepeau, who visited Turkey in June 2012 as part of a study on the human rights of migrants at the borders of the European Union, reported overcrowding, inadequate food and hygiene, and insufficient access to medical care. He pointed to long detention periods - especially for Iranian and Afghani detainees, whose countries will not take them back.  He found that detainees, including women and children, were often locked in their rooms or wards, and that boys aged over 12 were separated from their mothers and placed in orphanages. He expressed concern about the lack of human rights monitoring and the limited opportunities for detainees to contact their families, to obtain legal assistance, to benefit from consular services, or to lodge an application for asylum. The rapporteur called on UNICEF to support migrant children who are detained with a view to securing their quick release, as well as to work for access to school and health services for irregular migrant children (http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12307&LangID=E). 

In 2011, 44,415 irregular migrants were intercepted by the Turkish security authorities, either for illegal entry into the country or for overstaying, according to the General Directorate of Security (http://www.egm.gov.tr/icerik_detay.aspx?id=232). The number of foreigners deported – mostly for infringing laws on passports, travel and residence – was 26,889. In addition, 13,621 foreigners were turned back from ports, airports and border crossing points. A few NGOs including the Human resources Development Foundation (İKGV) and Amnesty International have assisted and/or advocated on behalf of trafficked persons and irregular migrants.

Refugees and asylum seekers: Turkey is a party to the 1951 Geneva Convention and its 1967 protocol but with a geographical limitation, under which it does not process requests for asylum except from Europeans. In practice, most foreigners in Turkey who seek to be recognised as refugees - unable to return to their own countries for fear of persecution on account of their beliefs, opinions or identities – are non-Europeans. Most of them have arrived in the country from parts of southern and southwest Asia, including neighbouring Iraq and Iran, or from parts of Africa. These can apply to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) mission in Turkey with the aim of resettlement in recipient countries. The Turkish authorities generally permit these asylum seekers to stay in Turkey under certain conditions pending their applications and, where necessary, appeals. If their applications are accepted, and they are given refugee status, Turkey also grants them the right of residence pending resettlement procedures. All these procedures may take several years. The Turkish authorities do not necessarily expel by force those asylum-seekers whose applications are rejected. According to the UNHCR (www.unhcr.org.tr), the total population of asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey was 28,791 as of August 31, 2012. Of these, 24,181 came from Iraq, Afghanistan and Iraq. The figure includes 10,008 children – 35% of the total. Turkey also has communities of political exiles from Europe (such as Chechens), who are permitted to reside in Turkey in practice, but who do not go through an asylum process and do not acquire full rights as refugees

Child refugees and asylum seekers in Turkey by age group, gender and country of origin (August 31, 2012)
































































































Source: UNHCR

Asylum-seekers and refugees awaiting resettlement are typically obliged to reside in given provinces of central Anatolia - a condition which is always tough, and sometimes intolerable. UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur Crepeau recommended the abolition of this system. Besides restricting their freedom of movement, residence in designated cities can distance the asylum-seekers and refugees from potential sources of solidarity, support or information. Adequate housing may not be available, and opportunities to earn a living and take part in social life may be very limited. In any case, asylum-seekers and refugees are not normally allowed to work, although they may apply for work permits if they are able to find formal jobs. Public awareness of asylum-seekers and refugees is limited. Attitudes are generally sympathetic, some groups among them may face prejudice and discrimination.

Various efforts are being made to provide asylum-seeker children with some of their basic rights, such as access to health and education services. NGOs like the Association for Solidarity with Asylum-Seekers and Migrants (SGDD/ASAM) and the Turkish Education Volunteers Foundation (TEGEV) have also carried out some much-needed social and cultural activities with and for children of asylum-seekers, and provided them with assistance in kind (such as schoolbooks). Asylum seekers are covered by the universal health insurance scheme, which provides free health cover for children. In some provinces the Social Assistance and Solidarity Foundations provide various kinds of assistance. In evidence provided to the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child in early 2012 (http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/AdvanceVersions/CRC_C_TUR_Q_2-3_Add1.pdf), the government stated that provincial social services units, municipalities and the Red Crescent also provide aid in kind to refugees and asylum seekers in need “who can also benefit from all other available aids and benefits on the same conditions with Turkish nationals”. It put health spending by the Directorate General of the Social Assistance and Solidarity Foundation for applicants for refugee/asylum-seeker status at TL160,406 for 2,208 people in 2009, TL155,271 for 2,129 people in 2010, and TL132,036 for 1,864 people in 2011. In addition, the government said, the Directorate General of the Social Assistance and Solidarity Foundation had spent TL2,183,833 for 17,378 refugees and asylum-seekers in 2009; TL1,244,336 for 16,358 people in 2010, and TL 1,250,662 for 17,947 people in 2011. It is not clear how far these amounts benefited children or families with children.

The Ministry of National Education, in conjunction with the Ministry of the Interior, has made it possible for children of asylum seekers to attend schools and to obtain primary school certificates (until and unless their appeals are finally rejected). As an incentive, residence permit fees have been waived for the children who enrol. The UNHCR has provided cash assistance to children documenting their school attendance. According to the forthcoming Turkey country report of the global Out of School Children Initiative undertaken by UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 77% of 6 to 11 year-old asylum-seekers and refugees and 53% of 12 to 17 year-old asylum-seekers and refugees reported to the UNHCR that they were attending school in the 2010-11 school year. However, it warns that these percentages may be misleading. In its evidence to the UN Committee mentioned above, the government indicated that 983 asylum-seeker and refugee children were continuing their education in 2011-12 – less than a quarter of the total number in the relevant age group. Possible reasons for non-attendance are: schooling imposes an additional financial burden on families; the families are in any case are hoping to move on soon; families may not be residing in the province to which they have been assigned; identity documents may be incomplete or bureaucratic procedures may lead to long waiting periods, and (particularly for older children) language barriers may be insurmountable. Some groups of asylum-seekers may try to educate their children themselves.

(Citing the Ministry of National Education’s e-school database, the forthcoming Out of School Children report states that 9,461 children were registered in basic education (grades 1-8) with a foreign identity number during the 2010-11 school year. Most of these children are presumably children of regular residents rather than asylum-seeker and refugee children. The report notes that the number of children enrolled declines from 1,465 in grade one to 1,097 in grade seven and only 269 in grade eight. It also points out that there are only 87 girls enrolled for every 100 boys. These figures require further explanation.)

Unaccompanied asylum-seeker children benefit from the care services of the Directorate General of Child Services of the Ministry for the Family and Social Policies, and hence from health and education services, albeit only after procedures like age tests and medical tests for contagious diseases. The rules governing the treatment of these unaccompanied minors have been defined quite clearly (Gizem Alanyalioğlu: Report on Unaccompanied Minors and Social Services and Child Protection Institutions (SHCEK) in Istanbul, 2008). Conditions for them are comparable to those faced by Turkish children in institutional care, although they may be in need of extra support due to language problems, cultural unfamiliarity, lack of relatives or their past experiences. The protection of the rights and best interest of asylum-seeker/migrant children in their admission to residential care might be better secured if custody laws were changed to enable the state or another body to act as legal guardian. Efforts to locate the families of unaccompanied children are carried out by the UNHCR and the Turkish Red Crescent.

In its Concluding Observations of June 2012, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child referred to reports of difficulties experienced by asylum-seeking and refugee children in receiving residence permits, which is a requirement for basic assistance such as health and education, and of detention with adults and lack of interpreters. It recommended that Turkey should conduct an assessment of the challenges experienced by asylum-seeking and refugee children in access to health, education and social services and urgently address such challenges. In accordance with the UNHCR Guidelines on Protection and Care of Refugee Children, it also recommended that every effort be made to identify children who require special support upon their arrival in the State party, and consider providing adequate psychological assistance to them. 

Policy trends: As well as calling on Turkey to remove its geographical limitation on the Geneva Convention, advocates for the rights of migrants and refugees have often stressed the need for specific legislation on migration and the establishment of institutions dedicated to this issue. In 2012, a detailed bill on Foreigners and International Protection was submitted to Parliament and debated in committee. The bill brings together and updates existing legislation on foreigners’ entry into Turkey and terms of stay, including matters like residence permit procedures and deportation. It specifies and amplifies some of the rights of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees and the benefits and opportunities available to them, including work permits. It also makes arrangements for the processing by Turkey of applications for various forms of international protection, including refugee status, asylum and temporary protection. In addition, the bill sets up new institutions – notably a new General Directorate for Migration within the Ministry of the Interior. Some of the responsibilities of this general directorate will be: to implement policies and strategies on migration; to ensure coordination among other bodies and institutions with responsibilities in this area, and to support their efforts; to supervise the entry of foreigners into Turkey, their stay, their departure and their deportation; to implement procedures for international protection, temporary protection and the protection of victims of human trafficking; to struggle against irregular migration, and to contribute to the development of legislation, policies, strategies and institutional capacity with respect to migration.

The bill does not eliminate the geographical limitation – third-country homes will still be sought for non-European asylum-seekers found to qualify for refugee status. Nor does it completely eliminate administrative detention for irregular migrants. The authorities will retain the option of obliging asylum-seekers and refugees to reside in certain places. Nevertheless, the provisions of the bill are closely in line with international standards and EU norms. If the bill is adopted, its effective implementation will require considerable effort in terms of secondary legislation, resources and institution and capacity-building. There are also plans for a new law on border management, setting up a border management authority to take over roles currently carried out by the gendarmerie, police and coastguard.

The EU requires Turkey to sign a readmission agreement, under which Turkey would agree to take back irregular migrants from third countries who have been apprehended in the EU after entering its territory via Turkey. Any such agreement would raise the issue of the treatment of the readmitted persons, including children and young people.

UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org