How Turkey Coup Attempt Will Impact Aid Groups and Syrian Refugees
Since the failed coup attempt on July 15, the government of Turkey has fired or detained thousands of people. Some were soldiers, some teachers, some students. Others were high-profile human rights activists. The most significant impact of the coup is President Erdogan’s increased detention of alleged enemies of the state.
As I reported here in April, Turkey was already in the midst of an attack on civil liberties. This week, arrest warrants were issued for at least 42 “critical” journalists. More than 1,300 civil society organizations and charities were shut down, 1,043 private schools, 35 hospitals and 15 universities.
A women’s health clinic, run by a Turkish Armenian doctor, was raided by the government and the private medical files of the patients were taken. Amnesty International indicated there are now credible reports of torture and rape in detention centers holding accused coup plotters.
For a list of recent arrests and closures, see the bottom of this story. Here is a summary of the areas of humanitarian response that will be impacted by the coup attempt:
Turkey/EU 1:1 Refugee Exchange Deal Will Likely Stop
In March of this year, the European Union began sending refugees in Europe “back” to Turkey. One refugee in Europe is sent to Turkey, and in exchange, one refugee is taken from a camp in Turkey and resettled to Europe. This scheme was widely denounced by rights groups and aid organizations. And it never really worked. So far, only 468 refugees have been resettled in Turkey using this mechanism.
In light of Turkey’s decision to suspend some components of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), this exchange program will likely stop. Even before the upheaval of the coup attempt, the 1:1 scheme was successfully challenged in Greek courts. Cases are now making their way to the European Court of Human Rights.
Refugees, who were initially ordered to be sent to Turkey, won their cases based on Turkey’s violation of the principle of non-refoulement. According to the courts, the country does not provide enough protection to refugees and is sending Syrians back into a war zone. This is a violation of international law. Given the current security and human rights situation in Turkey, it will be considerably easier now to prove Turkey is not a “safe” third country.
Despite the challenges, the EU Commission defended the 1:1 scheme as recently as May. After the coup attempt, Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, gave an interview indicating the migration scheme is not going to change. But realistically, there are going to be many more successful legal challenges and it’s unlikely the 1:1 deal will survive.
Syrian Refugees in Turkey Resigned to Stay, Some Optimistic
The number of refugees fleeing to Europe via Turkey is much lower since the 1:1 deal was struck. But no one knows the extent to which the 1:1 deal itself was a deterrent. If the deal disappears, will Syrians flock to Europe again? It doesn’t seem likely. Most of the analysis indicates that the real reason Syrians stopped going to Europe is that Eastern European “transit” countries closed their borders to refugees.
Syrian refugees have heard that migrants in Europe are being stopped in Greece and Italy and are unable to transit farther. There are more than 50,000 people “stuck” now in Greece, most of whom are not in organized camps or formal living quarters.
Despite a lack of access to schools and jobs, Syrian refugees are cautiously optimistic about their future in Turkey. Just prior to the coup attempt, President Erdogan stated that he was interested in giving Syrian refugees full citizenship in Turkey. The Turkish government later clarified that only a very narrow group of refugees would be eligible. For Syrian refugees, any citizenship is welcome. “People prefer EU citizenship, but Turkey is good also,” one refugee told me. “Any citizenship works for Syrians.”
Following Erdogan’s announcement, there was an immediate backlash within Turkey among Turkish citizens and the hashtag #ÜlkemdeSuriyeliIstemiyorum (I don’t want Syrians in my country) was trending. Many see Erdogan’s interest in Syrian refugees as politically self-serving. And some even speculate that the coup attempt was timed to coincide with this rise in negative sentiment because more people would be on the side of the coup.
Future EU Funding to Turkey of $4 Billion Undetermined
According to the 1:1 deal, Turkey was supposed to receive $6.7 billion to support refugees in exchange for tightening its borders and following steps to remove some aspects of their law which the EU found questionable. About $2 to $3 billion was already committed to helping Syrian refugees in Turkey before negotiations were underway. Those monies are still on track to be delivered.
So today, the main question is whether and how the additional approximately $4 billion will be sent. These aid funds were contingent on some other items: Turkey wanted visa-free travel for Turkish people in the EU Schengen zone, and the EU wanted Turkey to implement legal and policy changes.
The primary policy change that doomed these negotiations was Item 65 in the Visa Liberalization Roadmap:
Revise – in line with the ECHR and with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) case law, the EU acquis and EU Member States practices – the legal framework as regards organised crime and terrorism, as well as its interpretation by the courts and by the security forces and the law enforcement agencies, so as to ensure the right to liberty and security, the right to a fair trial and freedom of expression, of assembly and association in practice:
- Turkey needs to revise its legislation and practices on terrorism in line with European standards, notably by better aligning the definition of terrorism in order to narrow the scope.
- A draft law on the establishment of a commission to inspect alleged violations committed by the law enforcement agencies in times of peace is being drafted by Turkish authorities, but has not yet been adopted.
Since the coup attempt, President Erdogan has arrested tens of thousands of people under the broad umbrella category of terrorism. Under the State of Emergency, he has explicitly suspended Turkish citizen’s right to association, assembly and freedom of expression. The changes required by Item 65 were unrealistic before the coup attempt, now they are impossible.
The additional EU funding was contingent on these negotiations. So it’s unclear now what will happen. Obviously, there is an incentive for Europe to make sure Syrians are happy in Turkey and don’t try to flee. But politically, it will be very difficult for the European Commission to defend giving $4 billion to Turkey in the current environment.
In an interview on Tuesday with German television, President Erdogan accused the EU of being “dishonest” and only delivering about $1 or $2 million in aid total to Turkey. The EU delegation to Turkey denied Erdogan’s claim. In a tweet, the delegation said EUR 740 million have been pledged, EUR 150 million is committed, and EUR 105 million was spent.
“Ask them [the EU]. Did you pay?” Erdogan said. “But Turkey still hosts three million people. What would Europe do if we let these people go to Europe?”
Transparency Will Suffer and Dangerous Conditions Increase for Aid Groups
Turkey remains home to at least 2.7 million Syrian refugees. Their well-being is largely unknown because the Turkish government has not surveyed them to determine their conditions. This is one of the ongoing problems with delivery of aid funds to Turkey. The government repeatedly blocks international aid organizations from conducting surveys themselves. Aid groups remain silent on this matter because they don’t want to be forced to leave Turkey.
Before the coup attempt, only 16 international organizations had government approval to provide direct aid in Turkey. Mostly, that was limited to camps. Many more international aid groups are operating in Turkey but they are doing so either under the table or just as a launch pad for operations in Syria.
Amazingly, these groups aren’t pulling out of Turkey. Dozens are still hiring. Prior to the coup attempt, some international organizations did relocate staff from Southeastern Turkey to Istanbul because of the security environment. Following the bombing at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport and the coup attempt, Istanbul is also proving to be a volatile choice.
At this point, it is unlikely aid groups currently in Turkey will leave. If they do, their options for a base of operations are Amman or Beirut, neither of which are as convenient to Syria. With the EU still set to spend billions in Turkey, no one wants to be the first to leave. This presents a significant risk to their employees, particularly local nationals.
So far, no well-known international associations have reported being impacted by the purge. But thousands of small groups, including advocacy and human rights organizations, have been shut down by the government.
The complete list of closed civil society organizations is here:
Power Shifts Under State of Emergency Conditions
This is a summary of the powers granted to President Erdogan through the “State of Emergency”:
- Limits on the time people can spend outside, including curfews.
- Limits on where and when people can gather and how many.
- Searching persons and their vehicles and houses without a warrant and taking anything as evidence.
- Mandatory to carry ID papers all the time if visiting an area other than hometown.
- Any printing press may be banned or will require approval.
- Any voiced broadcast whether it be radio, TV or film will depend on approval.
- Inspection of all theater plays, depending on approval.
- Determination that persons thought to be harmful for public peace may be unable to enter, stay or leave certain areas.
- Banning or making all public demonstrations in open or closed spaces dependent on approval.
- The ability to halt all activities of any foundation or association on a case-by-case basis for three months.
Read other summaries of the State of Emergency laws here: