Does Turkey accept refugees from Somalia now?
Not that I know of. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was in New York yesterday, speaking to the U.N. General Assembly. He described the poverty he saw in Somalia and said he considered the situation there a disgrace to the international community. Somalia is definitely in a horrific state. But Turkey does not accept permanent asylum seekers from Somalia, nor, for that matter, from Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan. Turkey is one of the few countries in the world that continues to apply the geographical restriction of the 1951 Geneva Convention. Many immigrants who do make it here live and work illegally. As Turkey grows into a beacon of stability, prosperity and liberty in the region, it urgently needs to adopt a coherent immigration policy. Speaking of Somalia’s plight in any other way rings hallow.
Turkey’s Byzantine immigration regulations disadvantage those who are in direst need of help. Turkey gets refugees and asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Yet, Amnesty International reports identify Turkey as a country that denies protection to refugees from the East. Turkey’s legal obligation concerning refugees is applied only to persons who seek asylum “as a result of events in Europe,” but not from neighboring countries in the east, south and north. This means that non-Europeans are denied permanent refuge in Turkey. This goes for Somalian refugees in Turkey too. And what do we do if they come from a non-European country? We place them in detention centers and send them to their country of origin. The actual task of getting those people to third countries is left to the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees. This tells us that it is international organizations, not Turkey, taking responsibility for the fate of these asylum seekers. This legal framework also covers migrant workers. Try employing a foreigner in Turkey and see how difficult it is.
This policy is a great pity if Turkey is to play a role in the region. Have you seen the footage of Erdoğan praying in Tripoli’s Liberty Square? There are scores of Libyans in the lines of midday prayer, including the leader of the Libyan National Transition Council. Yet only a handful of people are visible wearing dark European business suits, ties and are clean-shaven. Among them are Erdoğan, his foreign minister Dr. Ahmet Davutoğlu, his economy minister Mr. Zafer Çağlayan and deputy chairman Ömer Çelik. That open-air midday prayer video on YouTube illustrates the operational capacity of Turkey as a natural extension of European soft power in the Middle East and North Africa. Turkey would definitely hold greater sway in the region if it was a member of the EU. But that requires visionary European leaders.
Last week I wrote on the limited programming capacity of the TRT Arabic Language broadcasting station launched a year ago. Immigration policy is another example of how Turkey still has its back turned to its neighbors. Returning to the region is a long-term process. Needless to say, we are not there yet.