Crépeau, who is the envoy of the United Nations Human Rights Council, paid a five-day visit to Turkey last week within the framework of his one-year regional study on the human rights of migrants at the borders of the European Union. The special envoy visited Ankara, İstanbul and the province of Edirne on the Greek border, and met with government representatives, civil society and international organizations -- including representatives of the UN, the EU and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) -- as well as migrants in detention centers.
Crépeau, who was appointed special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants in June 2011 by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) for an initial period of three years, conducts country visits (also called fact-finding missions) upon the invitation of the country’s government, in order to examine the state of the human rights of migrants there. The special rapporteur submits a report on the visit to the HRC, presenting his findings, conclusions and recommendations. The report on Turkey will be submitted on June 23, 2013.
In an interview with Today’s Zaman, Crépeau stated that Turkey should maintain its “open door policy,” noting that many countries such as Tunisia kept their doors open for Libyans who fled last year during the turmoil in Libya. “Turkish authorities should not cope alone with the Syrian refugees. To date they have coped alone with the issue. If the situation deteriorates, then the rest of the world and in particular the EU, international organizations and rich countries like Canada and the US should help Turkey financially in overcoming the difficulties,” said Crépeau, adding that a streamlined policy for the resettlement of refugees would help greatly.
Influx of Syrian refugees
The Syrian crisis, which began last March and has been evolving into a regional crisis, brought with it another issue: the refugee issue, which is a significant concern for the internal stability of Turkey. Turkey has set up refugee camps on its border for Syrians who have fled the fighting.
According to figures from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 33,079 refugees in Turkey at present. “Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, 55,690 Syrian citizens have entered Turkey, and 22,611 have left Turkey for Syria for various reasons,” Metin Çorabatır from the Office of the UNHCR in Turkey told Today’s Zaman, adding that if the numbers increased due to the escalating tensions, Turkey would face serious economic and social problems.
Crépeau stated that there are two important points to remember about the Syrian crisis. “The first is the hope that the conflict in Syria will end at some point and that many of these people will be able to go back home. The second point that we have to take into account that there are 1 million refugees in Syria who might cross the border into Turkey. This is a difficult situation but it will be much worse if Turkey closes the door because these people will be killed. So, as the Turkish authorities also emphasized, opening the door was not even a choice, but it is what should be done,” said Crépeau, adding that international organizations including UNHCR and the IOM are ready to help Turkey.
“First of all it has to be acknowledged that Turkey is located in a very particular geographic and geopolitical situation. Geographically it is a link between continental Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. It is a country that has very difficult borders, mountains and coastlines to guard. This is a challenge. Geopolitically it is between the Middle East, Central Asia and Europe. It is close to several areas of conflict. It is also a rising dominant state in the region. It plays a much more important role than it used to play. And in that sense it has responsibilities. It has responsibility towards the EU, its neighbor, towards the Middle East and towards Central Asia. So it plays a diplomatic role in the region, which is very important nowadays,” said Crépeau. The envoy noted that Turkey’s unique geographical location positions it as a hub for migrants from all over the world, including Sub-Saharan and North Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
When asked his impression regarding the conditions of the human rights of migrants in Turkey, Crépeau replied that the migration issue was not an easy task to deal with in Turkey. “There are some issues which need a lot more attention regarding the treatment of migrants in Turkey, for instance the detention in “removal centers” of some apprehended migrants in irregular situations, including families and children,” said Crépeau.
Migrants face difficulties at detention centers
The special envoy underlined that the detention issue should be examined closely, adding many irregular migrants do not need to be detained. “There are several alternatives that must be explored rather than detention and the authorities should explore them. For instance, there is absolutely no need for the children to be detained. There are other ways of dealing with the children. I have observed that the EU focus on heightening border security has led to an increased prioritization of detention as a solution, including plans for the funding of new detention centers in Turkey by the EU,” said Crépeau, adding that the EU and international organizations should explore projects to deal with the detention issue.
Touching upon the status of the refugees and the asylum seekers in Turkey, Crépeau stated that it was very difficult for people to seek asylum in Turkey, adding that being a refugee in Turkey was difficult also. “Turkey has geographical limitations in its definition of who can be treated as a refugee. Turkey maintains its geographical limitation to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Asylum applicants and asylum seekers are dispatched into “satellite cities” where they don’t know anyone, don’t have the right to work and have no connections, networks or opportunities. And the lack of social services in those cities, including the lack of housing, often leads asylum seekers to leave the satellite cities for other places, which may involve crossing irregularly into Europe. But then they are detained and sent back to removal centers. I don’t think this is the system that is proper for the people who need protection. I think that these people should be able to go where they want in Turkey. They should have proper refugee status. Turkey should lift its geographical limitations,” said Crépeau.
The special envoy stated that the EU does not accept a large number of refugees for resettlement, adding that the union should increase the number of refugees resettled from Turkey on its territory as an important mechanism for sharing responsibility.
Crépeau also congratulated Turkey on having developed its new Law on Foreigners and International Protection. “I am pleased to have learnt that this law was developed after widespread consultation with a range of stakeholders, including the EU, and has received bipartisan support. It is a real participatory process. So at the end everyone agreed with the result and is quite rare to have such cooperative participatory process in migration issues. This is a big plus on the part of the government officials. I urge the swift enactment of the law without amendments that would weaken its provisions,” said the special envoy.
“The migration issue is not handled perfectly anywhere. I urge Turkey to start developing, in consultation with the necessary stakeholders, the relevant secondary legislation that ensures the law’s practical implementation in conformity with international human rights standards. The EU should providing the relevant support for this process, including training and expertise on human rights standards,” said Crépeau.
Development of new migration legislation
“Turkish authorities should abolish the system of restricting asylum seekers to living in satellite cities and allow all asylum seekers and refugees to establish themselves where they wish, thus respecting the freedom of movement of all people. I also welcome the fact that the new law may allow asylum seekers to work. The ability to gain access to these permits should be ensured in practice, as this will allow them to sustain themselves and live a life of dignity,” said the special envoy.
As a special envoy, Crépeau also recommends actions and measures to the countries he visits in order to eliminate violations of the human rights of migrants. Regarding his recommends to Turkey, Crépeau stated that the human rights of migrants are at the core of any human rights policy. “Turkey should explore alternative measures to detention and ensure that at all places where migrants are detained there is adequate monitoring access granted to lawyers, NGOs and the UNHCR, including in the transit zone of İstanbul [Atatürk] Airport. There should be work done with the EU and NGOs regarding the removal centers. Turkey should invite these organizations to play an advisory role in government activities regarding migration. This would be the general message,” said Crépeau.
When asked the details of his Turkey visit, the special envoy replied that visit to Turkey was a part of a large study. “What I am trying to understand is what impact EU policies and practices have on the protection of the human rights of the migrants at the borders of the union. In order to study that I have chosen two borders, the Tunisia-Italy border and the Greek-Turkish border. I went to Tunisia at the beginning of this month and I will visit Italy and Greece in October. After that, I will submit an area report on EU policies and their impact on human rights of the migrants. Then there will be four annexes of analysis -- one for each country. This is the general framework of the mission,” said the special envoy.
“We had meetings in Ankara, İstanbul and Edirne with several officials. The idea was to obtain a portrait of the situation from a variety of angles. It is a five-day visit; this is relatively a short visit but we wanted to get the portrait of the situation by gathering testimonies from officials and NGOs. In this context, I am pleased to have been able to visit Turkey as special rapporteur at this opportune time, and make some preliminary observations on the human rights aspects of Turkey’s migration and border management policies and practices, including its relationship to the EU in this regard,” said Crépeau.