Statewatch article: RefNo# 2294
Turkey: Europe's policeman
Statewatch bulletin, vol 8 no 1 (January-February 1998)
Despite its refusal to sign the Rome agreement Turkey was quick to act. In one operation early in the morning of 11 January, police in Istanbul arrested 1,374 people, mostly foreign, who were suspected of planning to get to western Europe.

A major ingredient of the Action Plan is the development of the use of "safe havens" in the region. On the table are plans for more "safe havens" in northern Iraq, Turkey and Jordan. But as EU governments are fully aware, the "safe haven" in northern Iraq is anything but safe. As British Refugee Council's Nick Hardwick commented, "No-one fleeing persecution would want to go to an EU safe haven, given western countries' failure to protect such places in the past."

The un-safety of the northern Iraqi "safe haven" was acknowledged in a report from the CIREFI working group (on external frontiers and immigration) to the K4 committee on "Migration movements from Iraq" in the autumn of 1997. This refers to the "problem" of a large influx of "illegal immigrants" from Iraq to the countries of northern Europe, most without travel documents, and most of whom could not be repatriated because of the conflict and the failure of Turkey (the main transit country) to cooperate. The "solution" was to strengthen external border controls, in particular in Greece and Italy, which would receive technical support and assistance, and to include a clause on readmission of illegal immigrants in the Turkey-EU Association Agreement. Cyprus and the countries of central and eastern Europe were also to be enrolled in keeping the refugees out. The proposals were endorsed by COREPER, the committee of permanent representatives of the 15 EU member states, in December 1997.

According to UNHCR, sixty-five per cent of Iraqi Kurds who claim asylum are recognised as refugees in western Europe. But there is no recognition of this, or of the plight of the Turkish Kurds, in the Schengen and EU response. It was left to the European Parliament to remind the EU Council of Ministers that the Kurds were, after all, refugees. In its resolution of 15 January, the parliament supported the solidarity and humanitarian approach of the government of Italy to the Kurds, and called for a perspective which recognised the right of those suffering persecution to seek refuge. It also called for a common EU foreign policy towards the repression of the Kurdish people.

An Amnesty International press release also called on EU governments to protect refugees. It reminded them that in Turkey, an estimated 2 million people had been "internally displaced" by security forces' destruction of thousands of villages in the Kurdish south-east of the country. The destruction is accompanied by widespread abuses of human rights including disappearances, extra-judicial executions, unacknowledged detention and torture. In Iraq, the ceasefire between the PUK and the PKK had broken down in October 1997 and the situation was volatile. The Turkish airforce was also bombing refugee camps and settlements in northern Iraq on the pretext that they were PKK bases.

The Amnesty report also pointed out that Turkey does not recognise non-European refugees. There is no provision in Turkish law for non-European asylum-seekers to obtain refugee status in Turkey. An estimated 12,000 non-nationals, mostly Iraqi Kurds but also Iranians, Algerians and others, have been arrested by Turkish border guards, and many refugees have been forcibly returned to the countries they have fled from. Turkey which systematically persecutes its own national minority and which refuses to recognise as refugees those who flee from neighbouring countries which is now being enlisted as regional policeman in the fight to make Europe refugee-free.<

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