An overall deteriorating human rights situation
End of January, I took part in a joint FIDH and Euromed Rights high-level mission and we concluded unequivocally that the human rights situation in Turkey is the worst in decades. Across the Southeastern region, human rights violations are widespread in the context of the conflict between the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish security forces, which has claims a lot of lives including among civilians. Beyond, the country faces a massive crackdown on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Human rights defenders, lawyers, academics, on and off-line media and political opposition members are increasingly targeted. They face smear campaigns, stigmatization, defamation, intimidation, threats, judicial harassment and criminalization, which often result in arbitrary arrest and detention as well as physical violence at the hands of law enforcement officials.
The dire situation of migrants and asylum-seekers in Turkey
Turkey currently hosts the largest number of refugees in the world. There are 2,7 million Syrian refugees. Most of them live in dire conditions outside of government-run camps with barely any support. The adoption of the 2014 Law on Foreigners and International Protection has done little to alleviate concerns regarding violations of the rights of migrants and asylum seekers. Despite some welcome advances which are not fully implemented to date, this law reproduces many of the legal shortcomings of European asylum acquis including the increased use of accelerated procedures to quickly process asylum claims and the detention of persons pending return for up to 12 months, contrary to what is provided for in international law. Accessing asylum procedures remains particularly challenging in the country. Turkey continues to maintain geographical reservations to the 1951 Geneva Convention on the status of refugees, which exclude non-Europeans from asylum claims. As such, Syrians, Iraqis or Afghans cannot be fully recognized as refugees and enjoy the rights enshrined in the Convention. The procedure in Turkey for foreign nationals to obtain a work permit is extremely strict. Very few international protection seekers manage to obtain a work permit. Subsequently, many are being exploited and a lot of women and children have no other option than begging. Children are deprived from their right to education. The Turkish authorities have forcibly returned Syrians to their country of origin in clear violation of the principle of non-refoulement, which prevents States from returning people to countries where they would be at risk of persecution and other human rights violations.
The EU-Turkey deal: Turkey uses refugees as bargaining chip
The Turkish authorities have used the fight against terrorism and the presence on Turkish territory of a large number of asylum-seekers and refugees as bargaining chips when negotiating the agreement with the EU. Turkey wanted funds, visa liberalization and some progress on membership talks. But more importantly, the Turkish authorities wanted the EU to stop criticizing human rights violations in the country. And this is exactly what they have succeeded in achieving with this deal. The European Union and its Member States are turning a blind eye to Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record in exchange for Turkey’s promises to help contain migratory flows into the EU. It is shameful, cynical and purely opportunistic to see that to protect their borders, EU leaders are ready to rubber-stamp Turkey as a “safe country” for refugees, when reality shows that it is not. Trading human rights away is the price that Fortress Europe seems ready to pay in order to seal off its borders and evade its own responsibilities of respect for human rights.
Read ‘What Greece really is’ by Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH Vice President
Read ‘What the EU really is’ by Karim Lahidji, FIDH President
Read ‘What the Aegean sea really is’ by Dan Van Raemdonck, FIDH Secretary General