Amnesty International organized an international conference “International Community: Responsibilities, Opportunities, Human Rights Violations” with the support of Rosa Luxemburg Foundation between 13 and 14 May 2016 in Istanbul prior to the “World Humanitarian Summit”. Around 500 experts, scholars and representatives from civil society participated to the conference.
The conference was composed of four sessions and the first session, entitled “Refugees in the Region”, focused on different country experiences hosting significant refugee populations.
Speakers of the first sessions pointed to increasing human rights violations and violent incidents in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and African countries. Speakers stated that internal war in Syria, which started in 2011, has the most serious impact on civilians and left millions of Syrian either internally displaced or forced them seek refuge in neighbouring countries. Speakers also remarked that the unarmed uprising in Syria has been gradually transformed into a civil war characterised with ethnic, religious and sectarian axes and with the emergence of armed groups fighting against Syrian army as well as other armed organisations such as the IS, the civil war is now become a war where multiple actors are involved.
During the first session, speakers further stated that due to ongoing violence in Syria, hundreds of thousands people were killed and tens of thousands were injured or have lost their lives over the course of border crossings. Speakers have also emphasized that the humanity is facing the worst refugee crisis and poor conditions in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq are forcing refugees to pursue journeys toward Europe.
All speakers of the first session noted that the international community have failed to take responsibility and the number of persons seeking to cross Europe mainly through Turkey and the number of persons who have lost their lives have reached an all-time high in 2015.
In their presentations on challenges faced by refugees in the region, speakers registered their criticism and stated that refugees are deprived of many rights & entitlements in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan and further noted that access to fundamental rights and freedoms is increasingly becoming more problematic. Several speakers shared that although the majority of refugees are experiencing physical and mental health problems which require immediate health care; the actual number of refugees who enjoyed access to these service is very low.
Speakers further raised their concerns on widespread poverty and unfavourable working conditions facing refugees as well as sexual harassment and abuses inflicted upon women and girls. Speakers have further pointed to the precarious legal status of refugees as the major obstacle before registering complaints about sexual assaults and other rights violations and access to justice. As a final note, speakers stated that although countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon claim to maintain an “open border policy”, they are increasing sealing of their borders and this, in turn, renders legal and safe routes virtually an impossible option for the majority of Syrian refugees.
During the first session of the conference, one of the speakers focused on Cyprus as a “neglected” territory and shared rights violations faced by refugees. The de facto division of Cyprus and the ambiguity of the legal status in the northern part of the island were cited as key reasons behind arbitrary practices. The speaker also noted although Turkish Cypriot authorities continues to make references to their international obligations, the non-recognition and lack of a local asylum system constitute major barriers before refugees’ access to asylum and fundamental rights.
The situation of the refugees in Turkey was discussed from different axes in the second session, entitled “Refugees in Turkey”.
It’s stated that population of the refugees from Syria and other countries is over 3 million which is the largest number in Turkish history.
It’s noted by several speakers that although Turkey claims to maintain open gate policy on all occasions; it is unavailable to cross Turkey by safe and official routes for people without passports.
During the session speakers gave examples of deportations and forced “voluntary” repatriation of Syrian refugees in Turkey as well as practices of push back. Speakers pointed to some incidents including beaten refugees and refugees whom are shot by a gun fire. Speakers also noted that at the end of the fifth year of the refugee wave there are still big troubles accessing the fundamental rights like health, education, housing and work.
During the third session entitled ‘International Community and Refugees’, reactions and responses of the international community, especially EU for the biggest refugee population of history is discussed in detail. Speakers noted that EU has decided to strengthen precautions in order to prevent migration of refugees and asylum seekers to the EU territories with such as preventing secure transition opportunities by building ditches and barbed wires over borders.
Speakers also emphasized that recent experiences are just examples of the historical attitude of EU about shifting off responsibility about protection of refugees from EU countries to another countries
According to the speakers, EU uses not only Turkey but also Morocco to be able to get rid of these responsibilities.
The agreement regulating refoulement of immigrants and refugees to Turkey over Greece, signed between Turkey and EU in March 18 is emphasized in this session. It has discussed that refoulement of immigrants and refugees based on hypothesis of that Turkey is a secure country. It is claimed that the agreement and refoulement are clearly against law and it is unknown how and where the money that is promised by EU for sending to Turkey will be spent. It is also emphasized that there should not be more detention center and financial support should be spent to make easier to access to the basic human rights for refugees.
It is also stated that although EU and Turkey believes that human smuggling and irregular transitions can be prevented with mentioned agreement; it is very hard to be successful about that issue due to lack of regular and secure transition opportunities to the refugees. That the refugees who reaches Greece does not have an effective asylum system and judicial assistance, asylum applications does not evaluated properly and applicants who is denied is still under the risk of refoulement to Turkey are all discussed in this session.
Speakers also implied that interchanging of refugees between EU and Turkey cannot be accepted and also this means the collapse of refugee law. It is also mentioned that EU is using the definitions, criteria and mechanisms of secure country and as a legal tool to get rid of the responsibility.
Presentations also show that Turkey has regulated the migration areas with circular s until 2013 and because of that, violation of law became more systematic. It is remembered that European Court of Human Right has determined that Turkey is violating the European Convention on Human Rights in many cases. 2013 legislative regulation was an important step but it is also remarked the necessity of more radical and rooted policies.
Examples given for the agreement between EU and Turkey, it is again mentioned that EU is again unfair just as the example of Libya. While requirements of refugees are still ongoing in Turkey, it is remarked that using all financial supports for building detention centers is worrisome. Speakers also indicated that conditions of detention centers and practice of administrative detention causes many abuses and violations and also unlawfulness.
At the last session of the conference entitled “Is Turkey a safe country?”, human rights in Turkey is discussed from the point of safe country discussions.
The speakers pointed to the migration applications from Turkey to Europe which are caused by spread human rights violations and a considerable amount of those applications are accepted in terms of matching the refugee criteria.
It is stated that safe country issue cannot be discussed before ending human rights violations like torture, right to live, freedom of speech and freedom of press, etc…
Another point emphasized during the session were the curfews imposed in the Eastern Turkey. It’s pointed that during the curfews hundreds of people lost their lives and many kinds of human rights violations occurred.
During the speeches, it is also noted that, increasing number of human rights violations, attitude against opponents, pressure on freedom of speech and press shows that Turkey is not a safe country.
It’s noted that judicial independence in Turkey has been wiped out and impunity for crimes committed by public officials are common. Speakers further raised their concerns on the debate of whether Turkey is a “safe country” or not, midst of all those violations of human rights.
Amnesty International Turkey and Rosa Luxemburg Foundation will publish a book consist of the full text of all the speeches of the two day conference in the forthcoming months.