Refugees entering Turkey via the Iranian border have been facing human rights violations ranging from rape and sexual harassment to physical abuse and deprivation of proper healthcare, according to a report by the Duvar news website.
The Directorate General of Migration Management said there were 1,698 registered refugees in Van; however, most of these refugees were unable to receive proper healthcare due to language barriers and poverty.
According to journalist Hale Gönültaş, who personally went to the eastern city of Van to assess the situation, apart from a lack of care refugees were also subjected to cruelty and inhumane treatment.
Refugees who were registered with the directorate were given temporary identity cards with social security numbers. These cards allow them access to free healthcare; however, the social security institution has not activated the cards for the past year, making it difficult for refugees to go to hospitals.
The inability to receive healthcare has resulted in refugees with COVID-19 and other serious illnesses having to wait at home and hope to get better. Gönültaş said refugee families lived in small and cramped quarters and that each family had an average of five children, which caused COVID-19 to spread more easily.
“Most people infected with COVID-19 either have not seen a doctor or have been handed over medicine and have not had a follow-up examination,” said Gönültaş.
In Turkey, if refugees can cross the border undetected by security forces, they have the right to apply for asylum in the district representative of the Directorate General of Migration Management. For the past year, the representatives in Van have told refugees that they were not taking any more registrations and have been sending them to other cities.
However, unregistered refugees are considered illegal in Turkey and do not have the privilege of traveling between cities. Bus companies ask for identification or a residence permit, and refugees who are unable to provide documents sometimes travel in the luggage compartments of buses.
According to Gönültaş, refugees pay high amounts of money for these dangerous bus trips. If they are caught by security forces, they are sent to a repatriation center where they wait to be sent back to their country of origin.
Gönültaş said there were refugee women who said they were raped and abused in repatriation centers. “Iranian Z.N. was allegedly raped in the Van repatriation center by two officers,” said Gönültaş. “She told her translator what had happened to her, who alerted the authorities, and the whole ordeal was in the news.”
Z.N.’s complaint was investigated by the prosecutor’s office. Gönültaş said security camera footage showed that security officers had entered her room, although it was prohibited.
The investigation also revealed traces of DNA from one of the officers on Z.N.’s clothes. Both officers were eventually arrested, but Z.N disappeared during their trial. Gönültaş said the woman reappeared in the same repatriation center months later where she was held incommunicado.
“Although she had suffered a trauma, she was not examined by a doctor or sent to the hospital,” said Gönültaş. “She was held for months in the same center where she was raped.”
According to Gönültaş, the center wanted to send Z.N. quietly back to Iran while the officers’ trial was continuing. In the meantime, none of the lawyers representing her could reach her. However, with the help of her lawyers and the Van Bar Association, she was finally sent to a different city where her relatives resided.
Z.N. was not the only refugee woman who was raped during their journey for a better and safer life. A Rwandan woman who entered Turkey from the Iranian border was raped by three smugglers.
The woman filed a complaint, and one of the smugglers was caught. However, when the Van Bar tried to reach the woman they could not find her, prompting them to assume that she was quietly deported.
Gönültaş said many refugee women were threatened to keep silent about abuse and rape. Women who have been interviewed by lawyers have refused to file a complaint because men in positions of authority have threatened to deport them if they do.