A new report released by the New York-based Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF) shows a tremendous increase in the number of asylum seekers from Turkey and urges the international community to ensure that Turkish citizens are not deported back to Turkey, where they risk being subject to severe and irreparable harm.
The JWF calls on the international community in its report, titled “Escaping the Witch Hunt From Turkey & Around the World – The Right to Leave,” to assist in the resettlement efforts of Turkish nationals, to avoid the forcible return of individuals at extreme risk to Turkey or any other place where they face torture, ill-treatment and a real threat to their lives.
Underlining the fact that immediately following a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, in the third quarter of 2016, European Union member states recorded a more than threefold (228 percent) increase in first-time applicants from Turkey for international protection compared with the same quarter of 2015.
The report said the number of first-time applicants for international protection in EU member states overall decreased by 55 percent in the third quarter of 2017 compared with the same quarter of 2016. In contrast, the number of asylum applicants increased in absolute terms for citizens of Venezuela (1,500 more), Turkey (1,100 more) and Palestine (1,000 more). There were 4,240 first-time applicants from Turkey in the third quarter of 2017, or 35 percent more over the same quarter of 2016.
“By the end of 2017, the Greek Asylum Service revealed that 186 Turkish citizens had applied for asylum in 2016 and noted a significant increase in 2017,” the report said and added: “According to recent data from Greek officials analyzed by pro-government media in Turkey, it is estimated that 1,750 members or sympathizers of the Gülen movement fled Turkey’s post-coup repression in 2017 by crossing into Greece across the Evros River in Edirne province or via the islands off Turkey’s western coastline. Many others were not so fortunate; they were either detained by Turkish law enforcement or pushed back (to Turkey) by their official [sic] counterparts in Greece. Several people perished trying to flee the relentless persecution by which the Turkish government is targeting the members of the Hizmet Movement.”
The JWF also urges the international community in its report to actively seek solutions for the acute deterioration of democracy and human rights in Turkey and to take steps to counteract the Turkish government’s lawless acts against its perceived opponents abroad.
The report also calls on the relevant authorities to directly address the deteriorating human rights situation in Turkey, including in relation to the right to free movement and the arbitrary deprivation of nationality of Turkish citizens, through all relevant and appropriate United Nations, Council of Europe and other mechanisms, as well as through bilateral diplomatic engagement, and to encourage the UNHCR to urgently make the determination and grant all Turkish citizens at risk refugee status, based on the degree of risk and vulnerability.
The report discusses the right to freedom of movement, with a particular focus on the right of Turkish citizens, dual citizens and foreigners to leave Turkey after a coup attempt on July 15, 2016. It outlines the plausibility of a claim that the continuing human rights violations by the government of Turkey have now turned the country into an open-air prison for many, regardless of whether or not individuals are formally deprived of their liberty.
Being denied any future in Turkey and facing, inter alia, arbitrary detention, no prospect of a fair trial, unemployability and persecution, an increasing number of civil servants, teachers, professors, lawyers, journalists, judges, police officers, military personnel and other professionals at risk are trying to leave the country and ask for international protection.
The report said the right to leave the country, whether one’s own country or the country of residence, is firmly embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the relevant United Nations human rights treaties, which have been approved and are in force in the Republic of Turkey. The enjoyment of the right to leave the country is not an isolated right. It is considered to be a necessary prerequisite for the enjoyment of a number of other human rights, notably the right to international protection from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The report also stated that the enjoyment of the right to leave the country is not in itself an absolute right. Restrictions on the right to leave a country can be imposed through formal legal acts, if and as these restrictions are justified and in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and also the interpretation of the European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR) and the UN treaty bodies, either through their case law or through relevant General Comments.
According to the report, restrictions to this right must be sanctioned by law and be “necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others.” In any case, restrictions “must not nullify the principle of liberty of movement and are governed by the need for consistency with the other rights recognized in the Covenant.”
“Highly critical issues relating to the enjoyment of the right to leave a country arise whenever restrictions target individuals who belong or are perceived to belong to certain marginalized groups and whenever they are imposed in a discriminatory manner and in the context of crackdown on political and other dissent,” the report stated and added, “Such restrictions, in many cases designed on purpose and facilitated by the declaration of a state of emergency, as in the case of Turkey, not only have an adverse effect and create considerable obstacles on the right to leave – they may prove to be devastating deprivations of this right for entire groups, communities and families.”
Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.
Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.
Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 2016. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.