The children shiver with cold

Didim is a nice town on Turkey’s west coast. For the last four days there have been 65 people lying in the garden of a government building. They sleep on mattresses provided by the government and under Turkish blankets, and the state feeds them. Where do they come from? From the Palestine Occupied Territories, Iraq, Iran, Somalia and Eritrea. Among them are five women and two children. They were picked up from the sea in a rickety boat between Didim and the tiny Greek island of Farmakoni, about twelve kilometres off the coast. It’s scandalous, write the newspapers, that the state doesn’t provide a place for these people to stay! At night, the children shiver with cold!
The fact is that this is just the daily reality of refugees in Turkey. The state does nothing for them, absolutely nothing. Providing them with a mattress and a blanket is already quite something, you could say. Turkey has signed the Geneva Treaty on refugees and thus is bound by it, but adopted an exceptional position on it decades ago. It means that Turkey only accepts refugees if they come from a European country. In those days – post-war Europe – there actually were refugees from Europe, but of course those days are long past. Now Turkey is one of the routes that refugees use to get from one place in the world to another. They enter Turkey crossing the extremely long borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran, people traffickers transport them further in trucks to Didim, for example, or some other coastal town. Or they are dropped off in Istanbul, where big groups of Africans live. From there Europe is close – at least on the map.
Refugees in Turkey are supposed to report to the local police, who provide them with a document stating that they are asylum-seekers. Then they have to go to the UNHCR, the refugee foundation of the United Nations. They take care of the whole refugee procedure, which takes years. The police document and the UNHCR papers make asylum-seekers semi-legal, but they have no rights at all. No right to work, no right to a roof over their heads, no right to any form of support. They have to manage entirely by themselves. And they have to buy a residence permit, costing a few hundred liras per half year per person. That’s thousands of liras over the time the procedure is continuing. That leads to  illegal working, crime, landlords renting their dilapidated houses to too many people.
The men, women and children in the state garden in Didim reflect what happens in Turkey on a larger scale, but which is usually invisible and totally unknown to most Turks. Thousands and thousands of refugees cross the country’s borders, but Turkey is just looking the other way.

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