Refugees in Turkey: Unsafe Harbor

This year is the Sixtieth Anniversary of one of the landmarks of human rights, the 1951 Refugees Convention.  In 1967, a protocol amended the convention, removing both time and geographic restrictions to the convention.  Taken as a whole, this document serves as one of the most important safeguards to the rights of refugees within international law.  It is an anniversary well worth celebrating.

Turkey’s status within the convention, however, is something of an oddity.  Although it ratified both the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol, it did so with an important reservation: it did not accept the erasure of regional exceptions in the 1967, ratifying the protocol with “an exception” that it would continue to only accept refugees from the Council of Europe.

The result is that Turkey, a country of over seventy million people and a major destination for refugees and migrants, accepts, according to Amnesty International – Turkey, only a small handful of refugees. Refugees from outside Europe – from Sub-Saharan Africa, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Iran, and elsewhere – can only hope to achieve temporary residence while the UNHCR works to find them permanent sanctuary elsewhere.