Day by day the situation regarding serious human rights violations in Turkey is deteriorating, while the crisis in the relations between Turkey and Germany deepens. However, the European Union continues to insist on the implementation of the Statement that has signed with Turkey, forcing Greece to return refugees back to a country which it still officially characterized “safe”.
Particularly worrying is the violation of the basic rights of Syrian refugees in Turkey, as well as the repeated incidents of torture of Syrians by Turkish soldiers. Related footage published by international media is shocking. The video shows Turkish soldiers torturing and humiliating refugees from Syria who have just crossed the border. The Turkish government plans to escalate repatriations when secure third zones are created in Syria. At present, it advertises what has been achieved so far: «Since the beginning of the refugee crisis, about 450,000 Syrians including 23,215 who were extradited by us [the Turkish government] due to their crimes in Turkey have returned to Syria», said Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu.
Deportation of Syrians at any time if viewed as a threat
Both the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) keep silent on the fact that deportations of Syrian refugees can be lawfully ordered at any time following the amendment of Articles 53 and 54 No. 6458 / 4.4.2013 Law on the Protection of Aliens and International Protection in October 2016. This amendment enables the deportation of aliens, even asylum seekers, refugees or temporary protection holders, such as Syrians, if they are considered to pose a threat to public order, safety and public health or have been judged to be related with terrorist organizations. The legal remedies against deportations have no suspensive effect before the authorities.
Taking into account the current political situation in Turkey, the controversial implementation of anti-terrorism law, it is evident that these articles can be arbitrarily and abusively applied to refugees. Participating in protest or pro-Kurdish demonstrations, or even sentencing for minor offenses related to their refugee status, such as attempting to leave the country with fake documents, may lead to the characterization of Syrian refugees as being related to terrorist organizations or dangerous for national security or public order. This can mean their immediate deportation to Syria, without even any opportunity to seek effective judicial protection against deportation.
This amendment is part of a general tendency towards an overall limitation of rights which has taken place under the emergency regime. It shows that even according to law the principle of “non refoulement” is no longer in effect. The legal framework of the Provisional Statute of the Syrians (Ministerial Order 6883/2014) has shortcomings since it is has no specific time limitation and may be terminated or revoked merely for political reasons following the decision of the Council of Ministers without ensuring the possibility of the Syrians refugees to apply for international protection. Τhe Council of Europe’s Special Representative on Migration and Refugees Tomáš Boček has expressed his concern about this in his report after an on-the-spot investigation.
Targeting refugee support organizations
At the same time, news reports have increasingly been appearing in the Turkish press that criticizes refugee support organizations in the country. In particular, headlines of the Güneş and Akşam pro-government newspapers portray some of the most important organizations such as ASAM, a key implementing partner of UNHCR in Turkey, as well as “Mülteci-Der” and “Refugee Rights Turkey” members of the ECRE, as suspicious organisations serving German interests in Turkey. The targeting of refugee support organizations makes impossible to monitor and support refugees returned from Greece to Turkey and opens the way for new arrests of human rights activists. More and more human rights defenders are facing persecution. On July 5th, the Turkish Police arrested Amnesty International Director in Turkey İdil Eser along with nine other human rights activists, while attending a seminar on digital security and information management in a hotel near Istanbul. “Criminal prosecution of human rights defenders under such allegations represents a flagrant interference with the freedom of association and of expression protected under the European Convention on Human Rights”, said Nils Muižnieks Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights regarding these arrests and invited the Turkish authorities to immediately release those arrested.
Earlier in June, the president of Amnesty International in Turkey, a well-known advocate for rights of the refugees and founding member of Mülteci-Der, Taner Kılıç and as well as another 22 lawyers were also arrested and charged of involvement in the coup. Secretary General οf Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland has also expressed his deepest concern about recent developments. Turkey, which raises serious concerns regarding to human rights and the rule of law, is moving away from the European Union in “giant steps” said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in a conference of EU ambassadors in Brussels on Tuesday. Also the Athens Bar Association condemned one month ago the continuing violation of human rights in Turkey and stresses that following the failed coup in Turkey, democratic freedoms and the rule of law are under violent persecution.
Tensions between Germany and Turkey
The German government, the biggest supporter of the EU-Turkey Statement, has recently been in a particularly difficult position after Erdogan’s interference in Germany, urging the Turks in Germany not to vote in the September 24th elections for Christian Democrats, Social Democrats or Greens, describing the three parties as “enemies of Turkey”. Also, tensions between the two countries were triggered by the recent arrest of Turk-speaking anti-authoritarian author, Doğan Akhanli, in Spain, following a Turkish arrest warrant in Interpol. Akhanli has been released, but the tension remains. Berlin has decided in the last few months to harden its attitude towards Ankara. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said in late July, that Turkey now arbitrarily arrests persons and does not apply the minimum levels of consular protection. «It was clear to whoever traveled there: If something happens to you, no one can help you», he said. The German government, due to the two countries’ disputes about human rights, has decided to freeze the ongoing and future arms transfers to Turkey. The German Foreign Ministry issued a travel recommendation one month ago – during a holiday season – warning about the dangers faced by German citizens in Turkey.
The country is in a state of emergency after a failed coup one year ago and tens of thousands of people have been imprisoned, while tens of thousands of military, police, academics, and other civil servants have been detained. It is also at the limit of the grotesque that recently people were arrested because they wore t-shirts that spelled out the slogan “hero” in English, which for the authorities is a sign of support for the perpetrators of the coup.
Continuing clearing operations
At the same time, the tension between Turkey and Kurds is escalating ahead of the referendum on independence in Northern Iraq in late September. Analysts also believe that an open, violent conflict with the Turkish army in north-western Syria is likely to be a major issue, while the worst war is now raging in areas in Turkey where Kurds live. Human rights arrests and violations are a daily occurrence and Ankara continues its liquidation operations with fierce bombings in Kurdish areas.