Asylum in Turkey: Futile Hopes and Dreams?
Continuing with our series of reports and interviews with Iranian asylum seekers who have left Iran after the June 12 presidential elections, an Iranian journalist who is awaiting UN’s decision for going to a third country, has sent a report to the International Campaign for Human rights in Iran which describes the conditions of these individuals in Turkey. International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran hopes these kinds of reports would demonstrate a more tangible picture of these asylum seekers’ problems, so that assistance to these individuals whose numbers are on the rise would take place in a more transparent atmosphere. The report follows:
The Temporary Residency Tax is about $330 for each person for every six months. Rent for a clay house far from the center of the town is at least $200 per month. Clothing and food costs are between $200-$300 per month. You will also have to pay for water, electricity, and gas because in a country like Turkey which is not self-sufficient in energy, utilities cost a lot. Most refugees use utilities illegally, but they still have to pay someone to access the utilities. These are the minimum cost items on the monthly expenses of a refugee in Turkey. The refugee is not allowed to participate in any political activities in Turkey and is not able to get a work permit.
Most of the refugees faced serious problems in their countries which is why they enter Turkey through smugglers. It costs between $1,000-2,000 to be smuggled into Turkey. It all depends on the destination city negotiated with the smugglers. It would cost $1,000 to be smuggled into Van, which is the closest city to the Iranian border and which accepts refugees. If people wish to go to Istanbul in order to travel on to Europe, they’d have to pay $2,000.
Refugees go through all of this trouble and expense in order to introduce themselves to the United National High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), so that they may receive asylum from European, US, and in some case Australia in order to gain distance from dangers in their homeland. This is the situation of an asylum seeker in Turkey, a refugee who has had to quickly and hurriedly leave a country, especially if faced with political problems, but who faces unprecedented problems in Turkey.
Immediately upon arrival, each refugee must introduce him/herself to UN Offices in Turkey. UN has offices in Van and Ankara, where most people first introduce themselves. Upon completing a pre-interview, asylum seekers are issued an identification sheet. After visiting the police offices and providing information, and after going through a legal process for temporary residence in Turkey, they will have to return to UNHCR offices to see whether their asylum applications have been accepted. The refugees’ problems start right here.
The first problem is receiving an interview date which does not seem to follow any particular order. Sometimes a refugee can receive an interview appointment three or four months after he or she arrives Turkey. This time may be reduced in exceptional cases, especially for some political activists. But for most other refugees, political or non-political, it takes anywhere between four to fourteen months after their arrival date to receive their UN interviews. There have even been cases where a refugee has received an interview date six months after his pre-interview, and even after those six months, he has been asked to return three, four, or six months later.
The second problem a refugee faces during the UN refugee application process is going to the interviews and receiving the outcome which determines whether he has been accepted as a refugee or not. There are cases where even a year or more after interviews, refugees have not been advised on whether their applications have been accepted or whether they should be applying for an appeal to a rejection decision. Through this entire time, from the time the refugee is advised about his or her interview date, to the time the interview is held, and the waiting time for the reply, the refugee is in a limbo. The refugee has to pay for all living expenses during this time and of course they are not allowed to work legally, either.
In some cases, when an individual’s application for asylum is denied, he or she can appeal the decision and be re-interviewed. In appeals cases, there are no set patterns for interview dates and results, either. There are quite a number of people who have been in Turkey since 2002 and 2003, who after filing an appeal have not yet been told whether the UNHCR has accepted their applications or not. Please pay attention–this is 2010! This means that these people have lived in a foreign country for seven or eight years without legal work permits, having had to pay the cost of minimum standards of life for a human being. Assuming that a person has had to live in Turkey for seven years, he or she would have had to pay $4,500 for their Temporary Residence Taxes alone. This excludes all the other costs mentioned earlier.
Many of the people in this limbo situation suffer various physical and mental problems. They are not even allowed to leave the towns in which they reside and traveling to other cities without a police permit is not allowed for them. If they are unable to pay their residence taxes, they are never allowed to travel. Many of them would prefer to know their fate, even if they are going to be denied asylum. Nobody knows how the system works when in order to verify an individual’s claims it might take seven years or more. How is this possible?
The next stage after receiving asylum is choosing the country of destination within the stipulated time for leaving Turkey, and arriving the third country. People whose asylum application has been accepted are now almost sure about their future, but even so, in many cases it takes these refugees a long time to arrive their destination countries. There are many refugees whose asylum applications were accepted a year ago, but their destination countries have not yet been determined. Countries that admit asylum seekers from Turkey are US, Canada, Australia, and some European countries. Sweden has been added to the list of these countries in late 2009 and early 2010.
The process for going to US takes less time and Australia’s process takes longer than Canada’s. An asylum seeker who wishes to go to Australia sometimes has to wait three years for receiving asylum. It takes about one year for US asylum cases, because US does not provide refugee financial benefits to applicants. ICMC is an organization which expedites asylum applicants’ travel to US after they have been issued asylum status. Most Bahai asylum seekers can go directly to ICMC for their US residency after they have submitted their UN cases. It takes the Bahai’s approximately two years to go to US.
Asylum seekers in Turkey are usually there for reasons such as following the Bahai faith; political activism, especially leftist activists; monarchists and lately members of the Green Movement; social cases such as homosexuality; and people who have converted to other religions such as Christianity [from Islam]. All refugees must introduce themselves to the police at least twice per week. They are not allowed to engage in political activities and if the police becomes suspicious in this area, they may be confronted in ways the police see fit.
As mentioned before, traveling from one city to another must be according to rules and with police authorization. Many of the refugees who have selected their destination countries and who have also been accepted need to go to cities such as Ankara or Istanbul in order to have their interviews at the embassies or to have medical tests. The standard procedure is for the destination country’s embassy to ask the Turkish Interior Ministry for the asylum seeker’s presence and the Interior Ministry would write a letter (called Izim in Turkish) to Turkish police, asking them to issue a permit to the refugee for travel on the specified date which is usually within five to seven days from the request.
But the problem in most cities is that the travel passes issued for traveling to embassies are invariably handed to the refugee later than the allotted time, practically depriving the individual from the possibility of appearing at appointments, thereby delaying the refugee’s departure time from Turkey. In many cases refugees who have gone through the entire legal process of admission by the third country, have flight reservations to leave the country for their new destination, but because the final departure permit (called chikish in Turkish) has not yet been issued by Interior Ministry or it has not yet reached the refugee, his flight arrangements have to be postponed.
Above cases and of course many other cases described by asylum seekers are only some of the problems facing refugees in Turkey. Add to these security and life threats and news of murders which circulate among refugees as rumors which are repeated over and over again. Imagine leaving your country to escape the problems you have faced, hoping for a calm and peaceful life. Don’t forget what was described here is only the beginning of your ordeal. Do not become a refugee if you don’t have the money. If you have psychological problems, prepare yourself for more problems, and if you are unable to prove that you are under threat in your country, you should know that you will have a very hard time proving the accuracy of your situation. Remember also that you will not have a work permit, whatever you do will be working in the black market, and your employer can pay you or not. If he does not intend to pay you, you cannot object and in most cases you will have to agree to wages far below those of your colleagues. Every night after going home, you will dream anxious dreams while you wait to receive a phone call from UN about your case. Don’t build up your hopes during the first few months. Nobody can hear your voice, at least not during the first few months.