Turkey struggling to cope with refugees
Host to the world’s largest refugee population, Turkey is struggling to meet its international obligations and secure dignified living conditions for the more than 3 million people that fled to the country.
In a report published on Wednesday (17 August), the Council of Europe’s special representative on migration and refugees, Tomas Bocek, praised Turkey for its efforts to help people displaced by conflicts in neighbouring states.
But the report by the Czech official, who visited Turkey in May and June on a fact-finding mission, raises doubts whether Turkey can cope with the challenge.
Only a fraction of refugees - an estimated 20 percent - have been able to find shelter in dedicated camps and only one of the six EU-funded reception camps can be used as intended. It can host up to 750 people.
”For many refugees and asylum-seekers outside the camps, it is a struggle to survive. Harsh living conditions may be a very important push factor for those who decide to leave for other Council of Europe member States”, Bocek noted.
Child labour is ”exploding”, he added. The number of cases of child brides is also on the rise as families struggle to feed their daughters and keep them safe from sexual abuse - marriage is seen as a way of securing the child’s honour. Some also sell their daughters to older men, while few children enrol in school.
”There is not much time left to ensure that the generation of refugee and migrant children currently in Turkey is not lost,” Bocek said.
”The absence of adequate education prospects aggravates the trauma resulting from their displacement and also increases the risk of alienation and disaffection; this could lead some into criminality or extremism.”
The Council of Europe representative was alarmed that the backlog of pending registration requests has grown to around 100,000. The situation of unregistered refugees is particularly harsh and ”needs to be fixed urgently”, he noted. Many public workers also did not know their legal obligations vis-a-vis refugees and asylum seekers and that the new legislation giving refugees and asylum seekers work permits has so far failed to fulfil its promise of giving them access to the labour market.
Alarmingly, Bocek said it appeared that Turkey had closed its border with Syria, raising concerns regarding Turkey’s compliance with the principle of non-refoulement. Bocek was also informed about Syrians being expelled in large groups.
The new report raised questions over the EU-Turkey migration deal.
Turkey has committed to the EU to provide those in need of international protection with access to the relevant procedures. It has detained Syrian refugees returned from Greece, which according to Bocek seemed to lack a legal basis.
Bocek noted that 13 people were returned despite having filed an asylum claim in Greece.
”It is unclear whether what occurred in the case of these 13 individuals was an isolated error or part of a more widespread practice,” he said.
The European Commission said it was unable to comment on the issues on Wednesday because it was still consulting Bocek's text.
Meanwhile, the Council of Europe voiced added concern about the low level of resettlements to the EU, which was part of the Turkey deal.
”Turkey cannot be expected to shoulder the burden of accommodating and integrating such high number of refugees and asylum-seekers alone,” Bocek wrote.
The Commission’s latest data show that only a thousand - out of a planed 100,000 - Syrians have been relocated from Turkey to the EU.
”Need delivery on all fronts by all parties,” EU commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos tweeted on Wednesday.