Apaydın camp in line with practice, says UN

Apaydın camp in line with practice, says UN

Emine Kart & Özgür Ekşi ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Apaydın camp in line with practice, says UN

Syrian refugees arrive at the Öncupınar refugee camp in Kilis near the Syrian border. The number of Syrians fleeing from the violence are rapidly increasing.

The United Nations’ international body for refugees has said keeping Syrian military defectors in a separate camp in Hatay is in line with established international practice.

Experts in humanitarian law working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Hürriyet Daily News Aug. 30 that such separation of refugee camps is an international norm set by the UNHCR’s Executive Committee. Civilian and military refugees were similarly kept in separate camps by European countries during the 1992-95 conflict in Bosnia. “And at the moment, there are similar separate camps in different places in Africa, such as Somalia, Darfur, and Kenya,” one of the experts, who requested anonymity, told Hürriyet Daily News.

A government does not necessarily need to have an obligatory circumstance for drafting a by-law like Regulation No. 7473 of Nov. 7, 1995 on Combatant Members of Foreign Armies Seeking Asylum in Turkey, experts said. But Turkey experienced a mass influx of almost half a million mostly Kurdish Peshmerga refugees from Iraq in 1988 and 1991, as well as mass influxes of Albanians, Bosnian Muslims, Pomaks (Bulgarian-speaking Muslims), and Turks in 1989, 1992-1995, and 1999, respectively, as cited by Kemal Kirişçi, a professor of political science and international relations at Boğaziçi University, in an article dated November 2003.

In an interview with the Anatolia news agency released on Aug. 29, Carol Batchelor, a representative of the UNHCR’s office in Turkey, didn’t refer to the issue surrounding the 1995 by-law at all. “It is through an individual refugee status determination procedure that it can be determined whether someone is a refugee. This assessment is made on an individual basis. As some of the former military may have been engaged in the conflict from which the civilians fled, it is advised that there is a separation, at least until an individual assessment is made of refugee status,” Batchelor told Hürriyet Daily News in response to a question via email asking whether the refugees at the Apaydın camp should be considered “foreign soldiers” or “refugees with military backgrounds” or in some other category.

In her interview with Anatolia Batchelor praised the Turkish government’s efforts, while also supporting the hosting of former military members and civilians in separate camps. “This is normal under international law, that those who are former military are separated from the civilians,” Batchelor said, while also noting that a majority of people in the camps in Turkey were women, children and elderly people.

“These are civilians, these are people who very much need to be protected, they have special needs and it is important that those who have laid down their weapons who are former military are separated from the civilian camps. They must also be protected. But the international legal regime for protecting them is indeed different. And it is important that they are separated and Turkey has followed that policy,” she said.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry defends the situation, saying the implementation may not be in line with the by-law, but is in line with “established international practice.”

“We are looking at the issue overall, that is to say, as a whole. But we also review each and every case in its specific circumstances,” a Turkish diplomat, speaking under customary condition of anonymity, told Hürriyet Daily News Aug. 30. “The implementation of the Apaydın camp is in line with established international practice. This is a situation where security risks are high for these military figures; they might even be subject to lynching by other civilian Syrians, so we have had to keep them in a separate camp as a precaution,” the same diplomat said.

Military refugees must be kept in a separate camp according to a 1995 by-law, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on Aug. 29. According to the related law dated 1941, and related by-laws dated 1995, “keeping foreign combat soldiers and officers who come [to Turkey] in a separate camp is not a choice, but is a requirement of regulations on this issue. UN practices also fall within this framework,” Davutoğlu said.

According to Regulation No. 7473 of Nov. 7, 1995, on Combatant Members of Foreign Armies Seeking Asylum in Turkey, to which Davutoğlu referred: “’Combative foreign military member’ defines soldiers who are accepted into the country or seized in the country, and defines soldiers whose armed forces are waging war on or have a conflict with a third country.” Thus, the regulation to which Davutoğlu referred as the basis for the establishment of a separate camp for military origin Syrians does not list soldiers who are involved in a civil war, as is the case in Syria.