In a report on the sinking of a migrant boat in eastern Turkey’s Lake Van on June 27 that is believed to have cost the lives of over 100 refugees, the bar association of the city of Van said wrong policies of the Turkish government force refugees to take dangerous routes, the Evrensel daily reported.
According to the report Turkish authorities do not process asylum applications as required by law but instead send refugees to deportation centers after taking their statements. After time spent under administrative supervision in the centers, the refugees are deported back home. Moreover, the asylum requests of migrants who are caught at the border or at checkpoints are systematically ignored.
Hosting more than 4 million migrants, Turkey is a hot spot for migration flows as it shares borders with various European countries. The city of Van is located near Turkey’s border with Iran and has been a major transit route for migrants coming from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. According to the bar association, Turkish security forces have many checkpoints on the roads connecting Van to neighboring cities. As a result, migrants try to circumvent the checkpoints by crossing the lake by boat. In December 2019 another migrant boat sank in Lake Van, killing seven refugees.
According to Mahmut Kaçan of the bar association’s immigration and asylum committee, in similar incidents authorities failed to take any steps or adopted a policy of impunity for the migrant smugglers, thus paving the way for the latest tragedy.
Kaçan said after the establishment of a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Van in 1997, UNHCR registered refugees and processed applications in parallel with the Turkish authorities. Until September 2018, when the UNHCR field office was closed, migrants did not try to travel to European countries or western Turkish cities in large numbers. But once the office was closed, things started to change dramatically. Kaçan thinks international organizations have their own share in the tragic incidents that took place, and both UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are in a deep state of silence about the latest incidents.
According to the bar association, the Turkish government needs to change its deportation-based immigration policy to a transparent and accessible one. The migrant smuggling industry can only be dealt with if efficient and swift investigation mechanisms are in place.