Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Legal Protection of Syrian Refugees in Turkey against the Background of International Legal Determinants

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Legal Protection of Syrian Refugees in Turkey against the Background of International Legal Determinants

Article excerpt

Introduction

At present, Turkey has accepted the most refugees of all countries in the world. Registered arrivals from Syria alone number 2,910,281,1 and with over 290,000 refugees from other countries, chiefly from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Somalia, the total adds up to 3,200,000.2 It should be noted that Turkey recognises as refugees only nationals of European states while asylum-seekers from outside Europe had the status of immigrants. In 2014, the Act on Foreigners and International Protection made a change by adding "temporary protection," a new instrument with respect to Syrians fleeing the war. While its beneficiaries are granted certain rights, such as the right to temporary stay and the right to work, their legal status is not equal to that of refugees in those states which ratified without reservations the 1951 Geneva Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.3 Bearing this in mind, the author argues that Turkey is not a safe third country for refugees.4 The object of this article is to answer whether Syrians in Turkey can count on the same legal protection that Turkey would provide people recognised as refugees under the Geneva Convention. This is relevant because, by signing an agreement with Turkey on returning refugees, the European Union in fact recognised Turkey as a safe [third] state. For this, the deal has been censured by international organisations (such as the UN or the Council of Europe) and NGOs aiming to protect human rights, principally on the grounds that by admitting that refugees may be deported from EU countries to Turkey the agreement deprives them of the right to claim international protection.5 This allegedly constitutes a breach of international law, including of the European Convention on Human Rights.6 Furthermore, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have raised the issue of human rights violations in Turkey and of serious contraventions of international law in the process of extending international protection to those in need of it.7

The Refugee in International Law

The term "refugee" is defined in the 28 July 1951 Geneva Convention and it applies to any person who "[...] owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."8 Also considered as refugees are stateless persons, that is, those who, "not having a nationality and being outside the country of their former habitual residence as a result of such events, are unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to return to it."9

Initially the 1951 Convention was limited, geographically and in terms of time, to the protection of refugees who had come to Europe as a result of the Second World War prior to 1 January 1951 (article IB (a)).10 Optionally, a broader construction of the term "refugees" can be adopted: as persons fleeing their countries as a result of events that had occurred before 1 January 1951 in Europe or elsewhere (Article IB (b)).11 Only in 1967, with the problem of forced migration mounting, was an additional protocol to the Convention adopted to expand its scope, remove its geographical and time limitations and turn it into a universal instrument. To date, the Convention has been signed by 145 states and the 1967 Protocol by 146 states.12

Besides defining the refugee, the Convention lays down principles binding on the host states. The most important of these is the non-refoulement principle, a prohibition on expulsion, reading: "No Contracting State shall expel or return ("refouler") a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion."13 The other principles bind the host state to accord to the refugee the right to wage-earning employment (Article 17); to engage in business on his own account (Article 18); to practice a liberal profession (Article 19); to access education (Article 22)14 and, on equal terms, public relief and assistance; and the right to move freely within the host's territory. …

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