The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the organization that is supposed to advocate for the rights of refugees, has done the opposite. It has placed their care in the hands of an indifferent and hostile Turkey, which they leave to its own terrible devices. Pictured: The Adiyaman refugee camp in Turkey. The UNHCR has provided “technical support” to the Turkish government for maintaining the camp. (Image source: UNHCR)
Over the past half century, the Geneva-based United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has created and managed mechanisms to protect people whose lives are in danger at the hands of repressive regimes by providing them with political asylum in other countries. The war-torn Middle East has been home to the highest number of such asylum-seekers.
Turkey, which is located between the Middle East and Europe, was one of the first countries to establish a UNHCR regional office in 1960, and was given economic incentives to do so. Every year after that, the Turkish government received a large budget with which to provide aid to refugees.
With an increase in cuts to UN refugee budgets, Turkey was able to provide even less money to asylum-seekers under its auspices. When the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, a huge number of refugees flowed into Turkey from Syria and Iraq. Initially, Turkey seems to have believed that this situation could be financially lucrative, as the UN would have to increase its refugee budget for Ankara. This is not what happened, however. In fact, UN assistance to Turkish mediators, such as the Human Resources Development Fund (UNHCR) and the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (SGDD-ASAM), was even severely reduced, and in 2018, it was cut off completely.
This has led Ankara to provide even less help than before to those refugees who arrived in Turkey prior to the war in Syria. Furthermore, many of the UNHCR quotas for the resettlement of refugees in third countries (such as in Europe), which formerly belonged to Iranians, Afghans and Iraqis, were allocated to Syrians.
Given that Turkey bars refugees from the labor market, many refugees — including those with university degrees, have no choice but to work in menial jobs. To make matters worse, many employers take advantage of these refugees by not paying them.
Not permitted to work in the first place, these refugees do not complain to authorities, for fear of being fined or fired. The same fear of complaining goes for female refugees, who are often sexually abused by their Turkish employers.
Living in poverty and despair — and ignored by the Turkish government and the UNHCR — these refugees often engage in anti-social behavior, including drug addiction, theft, and sex-trafficking. Many have sold their organs. Turkish immigration offices and police, instead of helping these refugees, instill fear in them, thereby adding to their frustration.
The UNHCR, the organization that is supposed to advocate for the rights of refugees, has done the opposite. It has placed their care in the hands of an indifferent and hostile Turkey, which they leave to its own terrible devices.
The heaviest blow to non-Syrian refugees in Turkey was dealt by the UNHCR on September 9, 2018, when it announced that its “registration activities for applicants for international protection in Turkey [would end the following day], as part of the transition of refugee status determination responsibility to the Turkish Directorate General for Migration Management (DGMM).”
The UN, in other words, has delegated all registration of asylum-seekers in Turkey to Turkish immigration authorities.
Perhaps the UN has washed its hands of the misery of refugees in Turkey — who have become virtual slaves — but the rest of the international community must hold Ankara accountable for its inexcusable treatment of people who escaped danger in their countries of origin, only to be abused by the authorities that vowed — and took money — to protect and resettle them.
Sirwan Mansouri is an Iranian Kurdish journalist based in the Middle East.