Migrants have been subjected to neglect, mistreatment and inhumane living conditions in Turkish repatriation centers, according to legal experts and human rights activists, the Duvar news website reported.
Human rights violations have become common in repatriation centers; however, most cases are covered up and not made public. Unable to bear the dismal conditions, some migrants have protested, while others have died by suicide. The worst complaints have come from the Kayseri and İzmir Harmandalı repatriation centers.
According to lawyer Ayşe Kaymak from the Izmir Bar Association, repatriation centers are overcrowded, which is at the root of the problem. “The center in İzmir is especially overcrowded because it is connected to Europe by sea, and there are more migrants concentrated in this city,” she said. “Furthermore, migrants can be detained for the pettiest of offenses. A group of Syrians was detained for sharing a satirical video on social media a few months ago.”
Syrian refugees were eating bananas in the video in an effort to condemn racism and discrimination in Turkey. The video was posted in protest following a street interview in which a Turk says Syrians in Turkey “buy kilos of bananas” while he can’t even afford to eat them. Forty-five refugees were detained in the aftermath and were sent to repatriation centers for deportation.
Kaymak said instead of detaining migrants who commit offenses, authorities should register their addresses and require a weekly sign-in at a police station. This should especially be the case for minors, disabled or elderly migrants. However, nearly all undocumented migrants who were picked up by the police are sent to repatriation centers, making them accommodate twice their capacity.
“In such cases there are not enough toilets, food, water or beds to accommodate so many migrants in the centers,” said Kaymak.
The inhumane conditions have led some migrants to organize protests, which have resulted in disciplinary punishments and mistreatment by security officers.
Earlier this year migrants were made to sleep in a gym because there were not enough regular rooms. However, there were only two toilets for hundreds of detainees and one of them was clogged. The migrants, who could not take a shower or use the toilets, demanded to know how long they would be detained at the center and to see someone in charge who could give them answers.
This resulted in a clash between security officers and migrants, and some of the migrants involved were immediately deported, while others were sent to different repatriation centers.
“Migrants do not have access to lawyers or human rights organizations, so they cannot pursue their rights in such cases,” said Kaymak.
Kaymak explained that as lawyers, they were sometimes helpless when they received complaints from repatriation centers because the centers did not cooperate with them. She added that in many cases they could not get proper information and were not allowed to speak with the complainants.
“Migrants who don’t speak Turkish are not even aware of decisions taken about them, which makes it difficult for them to oppose the decisions,” Kaymak said. “Accessing a lawyer is their basic right, but they are prevented from doing so.”
According to Kaymak, anti-migrant sentiment is at the heart of these problems. She urged authorities to stop using migrants as scapegoats for the country’s economic and social problems.
Anti-immigrant sentiment is nearing the boiling point, fueled by Turkey’s economic woes. With unemployment high and the price of food and housing skyrocketing, many Turks have turned their frustration toward the country’s roughly 5 million foreign residents, particularly the 3.7 million who fled the civil war in Syria.
Hate crimes against refugees and migrants, who are blamed for many of Turkey’s social and economic troubles, also have been escalating in the country in recent years.
Turkish media, including pro-government and opposition outlets, fuel and exploit the flames of hatred against people who fled their countries and sought refuge in Turkey.