Izza Leghtas and Jessica Thea
Turkey currently hosts the largest population of refugees in the world, including a growing number of Afghan refugees fleeing either violence and conflict in Afghanistan or the lack of opportunities and protection for Afghans in Iran. A group that receives less attention than Turkey’s 3.5 million Syrian refugees, Afghan refugees in Turkey face many difficulties, including in accessing housing, education, and employment.
In September 2018, the Turkish authorities fully transferred responsibility for the registration and processing of asylum applications of non-Syrians from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to Turkey’s Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM). Although the transfer had been planned for at least two years, its implementation was sudden and came in the wake of a surge in Afghan arrivals in 2018.
In November 2018, a Refugees International (RI) team visited Turkey to research the effects of transferring registration and processing operations to the Turkish authorities. RI interviewed dozens of single Afghan men who described major obstacles in registering as asylum applicants with the offices of DGMM at the local level, the Provincial Directorate of Migration Management (PDMM). Some were told that the authorities did not register single men, and others that they should return several months later to register. This means that they were not able to obtain Turkish identity cards (“kimliks,” in Turkish). Being without documentation from the Turkish authorities exposes these men to the risk of arrest, detention, and deportation, and impedes their access to such essential services as health care and education. Families interviewed by RI appeared to face fewer difficulties in registering. However, many described delays in obtaining their kimliks. This delay then prevents them from sending their children to school or receiving health care and humanitarian assistance, such as cash assistance and coal for the winter months.
The Turkish government must urgently make changes to the way this system is being implemented to ensure that all newly arrived asylum seekers are promptly registered and receive kimliks, whether they are single men or members of a family. Prior to the transfer in September 2018, UNHCR in Ankara referred non-Syrians to cities in which they could register with the Turkish authorities. However, under the new system there is no centralized referral mechanism. The government should therefore put in place a system that fills this gap by directing newcomers to places that are open to the registration of international protection applicants, and issuing them with documents that enable them to travel there legally and safely.
The new system is still in its initial phase of implementation. At this time, Turkish officials have an important opportunity to make adjustments that will better safeguard the rights of refugees and avoid their being trapped in an irregular situation on Turkey’s territory.