(Aug. 14, 2019) On July 22, 2019, the Governorate of Istanbul issued a press release titled “Combating Irregular Migration” in Turkish and Arabic. The press release was directed at Syrians under temporary protection currently residing in Istanbul but who were assigned to provinces other than Istanbul when they were granted temporary protection status. The press release gave the Syrians under temporary protection notice that they must return to their assigned provinces by August 20, 2019, warning that those who did not voluntarily return would be removed to those provinces forcibly by law enforcement. In addition, regular checks for “transit permits” in all public transportation hubs would be made.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there were more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey as of February 2019. The number of Syrians under temporary protection officially assigned to Istanbul was cited as 547,479.
Basis for the New Policy
Turkey ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention in March 1962 and acceded to the Convention’s 1967 Protocol in July 1968. However, Turkey made a reservation to the Protocol that geographically limits the application of Convention rights to persons affected by events occurring in Europe. As a result, under international law, Turkey’s obligations toward non-European asylum seekers are limited to rights that can be derived from international and regional human rights instruments to which Turkey is a party. Under Turkish domestic law, the status of asylum seekers is regulated by the Law on Foreigners and International Protection of 2013 (LFIP), which is implemented by the Regulation on Temporary Protection of 2014 (RTP). The LFIP designates three different statuses of international protection—namely, “Convention refugee” (mülteci), “conditional refugee” (sartli mülteci), and “person under temporary protection” (gecici korunan).
“Temporary protection” is a sui generis status for asylum seekers who are not eligible for Convention refugee status but are nonetheless compelled to leave their country to which they cannot return and are seeking “urgent and temporary” asylum in Turkey in the context of a mass population movement. While persons under temporary protection still benefit from the principle of nonrefoulement, they are subject to a wide array of limitations to their freedoms of employment and movement within the country, compared to Convention refugees. According to provisional article 1 of the RTP, Syrian Arab Republic citizens, refugees, and stateless persons who arrive from the Syrian Arab Republic on and after April 28, 2011, individually or as part of a mass movement, are admitted to international protection only under the status of persons under temporary protection (persons admitted under this rule are generally referred to as “Syrians under temporary protection”).
The RTP regulates the rights and obligations of persons under temporary protection. Although the RTP provides for a framework for the hosting of persons under temporary protection in “temporary accommodation centers,” confronted with the vast number of asylum seekers coming in from Syria, the government adopted an approach that relied on the provision of services outside of camps by assigning registered Syrians under temporary protection to several provinces (in accordance with article 24 of the RTP) and enabling their access to certain municipal and provincial public services in those provinces.
According to article 33(2)(a) of the RTP, persons under temporary protection are required to stay in the provinces to which they are assigned. Persons under temporary protection who wish to travel to another province are required to obtain a “transit permit” (yol izin belgesi). Article 35 of the RTP provides that persons under temporary protection who are in violation of the rules of article 33 will be warned by the administration; those who persist in the violation may be forbidden to access benefits under the RTP other than education and emergency medical services, and their right to stay outside of temporary accommodation centers may be limited (art. 35(2) & (3)).