Turkey is considered a safe country for many asylum claimants in Greece as a result of the EU-Turkey Statement and subsequent Greek legislation. However, for people seeking asylum on the basis of their diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and/or sex characteristics (SOGIESC), Turkey falls significantly short of ‘safe’.
The EU-Turkey Statement developed in a context of increasing numbers of arrivals, paired with a prevalent anti-asylum attitude in both the political discourse and media. Resultantly, negotiations between EU Member States and Turkey took place with the aim of reducing the number of people leaving Turkey to enter EU border states to seek asylum. After months of negotiations, the EU-Turkey Statement was officially announced on 18 March 2016.
Members of the European Council and the Turkish counterpart agreed that everyone who arrived from Turkey into the Greek islands after 20 March 2016 who either did not apply for asylum or whose application was found unfounded or inadmissible would be returned to Turkey. It was also established that Turkey would take measures to prevent people from traveling irregularly from Turkey into the Greek islands. In exchange, Member States accepted that for every Syrian person who was returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, a Syrian refugee would be resettled from Turkey into the EU. Other benefits would be provided to Turkey, including financial support.
Premising the EU-Turkey Statement and subsequent Greek legislation (Law 4375/2016, Law 4636/2019 and the Joint Ministerial Decision no 42799/2021) is the idea that Turkey is a safe third country (STC). In other words, States can return asylum-seekers to third countries that, following an evaluation, are considered safe. This results in asylum claims being assessed on admissibility instead of the merits of the case.
Notably, for a country to be considered STC, several conditions must be satisfied including:
- “The lives or freedoms of persons are not under threat on account of their… membership of a particular social group”
- “There is no risk of being subject to serious harm”
- “[...] to receive protection in accordance with the Geneva Convention”
- And respect for other fundamental principles.
This blanket consideration of Turkey as a STC raises issues for all asylum applicants for whom it applies to, but it particularly fails certain minority groups, including people with diverse SOGIESC, where Turkey is far from a sanctuary. Although same-sex sexual relations are not expressly criminalised, vaguely worded prohibitions such as “offences against public morality” are used to harass and discriminate against people with diverse SOGIESC. The situation is so concerning that in the European Parliament’s report on the accession of Turkey, it was recommended that the accession negotiations be suspended on account of the human rights abuses, particularly of people with diverse SOGIESC. The wide-spread discriminatory rhetoric has been further fuelled by the anti-SOGIESC agenda from the government and government-supported media, which has called people with diverse SOGIESC a “disgrace”, “dirty” and “perverts”. The Government itself has openly and publicly stated that diverse SOGIESC is “incompatible with Turkey’s social and family values”, and is “against the values of our nation”. This attitude mirrors the opinions of the general public; a study in 2020 revealed that 57% of people in Turkey did not believe that ‘homosexuality’ should be accepted by society.
People seeking asylum in Turkey are already placed at the margins of society and likely to face a barrage of discrimination, human rights violations, and reduced access to an asylum procedure. For people seeking asylum on the basis of their SOGIESC, the situation is even more dire as they experience a compound of discrimination. SOGIESC applicants in Turkey are among the most vulnerable on account of the lack of access to services, safe spaces and the ever-prominent anti-refugee and anti-SOGIESC attitudes both institutionally and publicly. There is an absence of legal protections and regulations to counter discrimination against sexual orientation or gender identity in areas including employment, health care, education or housing. Access to services is further limited for SOGIESC asylum applicants; on account of the scarcity of shelters available for people with diverse SOGIESC, who find themselves excluded from women’s shelters, and the restricted access to health care due to multiplied discrimination, SOGIESC applicants are without their basic needs or rights being met.
The lack of protection is particularly concerning given that SOGIESC asylum claimants are at a heightened risk of targeted violence and hate crimes in Turkey, including severe assaults and murders, on account of their identity. In the European Commission’s Enlargement Policy Report in 2019, the Commission noted the stagnation of SOGIESC rights, and subsequently urged the Turkish authorities to put in place measures to end violence and intimidation against people with diverse SOGIESC. Since then, the situation has only deteriorated; 2021 saw a spike in both hate crime and speech.
The discriminatory rhetoric is not isolated from the asylum system. During the initial registration by the Provincial Directorate of Migration Management, it was reported that almost a quarter of SOGIESC applicants in Turkey experienced negative attitudes from officers, of which included categories such as ‘negative attitude, yelling and degrading treatment’ and ‘mistreatment, insult or degrading treatment’.
SOGIESC asylum applicants in Turkey face intersectional discrimination, including a lack of legal protections, access to services, and are subject to hate crimes resulting from the prevelant anti-SOGIESC and anti-asylum sentiments. On account of the above, the EU-Turkey Statement, which fails to recognise the particular vulnerabilities and situation, places SOGIESC asylum claimants at even greater risk of human rights violations.