Why refugees are so desperate to leave Turkey

As thousands of refugees flock to Turkey's borders with the European Union, the Turkish NGO Human Rights Association (İHD) drew a report investigating the reasons why refugees are so desperate to leave Turkey. Amongst there reasons are unemployment, bad treatment and discrimination.

Hacı Bişkin / DUVAR

The Istanbul and Çanakkale branches of Turkish NGO Human Rights Association (İHD) have prepared a report regarding the refugees who have been waiting for days at the Turkish border attempting to get into Europe. The report covers the primary reasons why refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Uzbekistan and other countries do not wish to live in Turkey. Amongst their reasons are unemployment, bad treatment, and discrimination.

The report was drafted based on interviews with refugees conducted by members of the İHD branches at the Kapıkule, Pazarkule, Bosnaköy and Ipsala border gates, which lead to Greece or Bulgaria. The majority of the respondents indicated that though they had escaped war in their home countries, they faced deep troubles in Turkey including poverty, the inability to obtain work permits, while some of those with jobs complained about not getting paid. 

Numerous interviews were conducted with Afghans, Syrians and Moroccans and people from other countries at the Pazarkule border gate with Greece. Following the deaths of 33 Turkish soldiers in the Syrian rebel-held province of Idlib that borders Turkey, the government announced that it would no longer be preventing refugees from leaving Turkey. This led many to believe they would be able to cross easily into Bulgaria or Greece, but in reality, the borders are closed and some refugees have attempted to cross the Maritza River, which runs alongside the Turkish-Greek border, with boats.

“I'm ten years old, and I went to school for a while. I know Turkish but my mother doesn't, and my mom, aunt, and two cousins came from Ankara yesterday. We came here during the night when it was open. It was very cold and we had nothing left to eat. We moved out of our homes and came so we can't go back,” said one Afghan child. 

“I came here together with my wife and three children from [the Central Anatolian province of] Tokat.  We are from Afghanistan and came to Turkey four months ago. We are not thinking of returning from here, as there is no other way of getting to Europe,” said an Afghan man. 

“My name is Maryam. I'm fourteen-years-old and we came here as two families. We came from Damascus and the other family came from Aleppo. We met in Istanbul and came here together. My sixteen-year-old brother worked in a textile factory in Istanbul, and I also have a five-year-old brother. A journalist here treated me very badly. They said 'you don't have the right to say anything negative' and got angry at me when I mentioned our problems,” Maryam said. 

“We came as a group of three a month ago from Morocco, and legally entered Istanbul. We found a textile job, and needed to work and send the money to our family, but we do not have work permits and for that reason they pay low wages, and sometimes we didn't receive our wages. Living this way was impossible, we have been here for two days and no one has came to help, we haven't eaten anything for two days,” said one young man.

“We came from [the Syrian city of] Afrin, and have lived in Turkey for six years. Because I was shot in the foot during the war in Syria, I have trouble working and cannot find a job. My children are sick, one has kidney problems and needs to get surgery. When my child fell ill we took him to the hospital, without even looking they said come back two months later and gave us an appointment. When he got worse we went again but because the two-month period had not passed, they did not help us. My wife has asthma. She fell ill after [police] sprayed tear gas here. We want our children to study but since we have no money we can't even afford this. There are no jobs, and if we find them they make us work hard for little money. People have no conscience,” said a Syrian man. 

“We have lived in Turkey for two years and came here from Denizli. We have been here for three days, and cannot go back as we have no money left. My mother has high blood pressure but cannot receive treatment at the hospital because she has no ID. Due to the fact that we had no money the hospital took her passport and would not give it back. We cannot return to Iran, and we cannot return to Turkey, we need to leave. After we saw the news on TV, we came here. It is difficult being a woman in Turkey. When the police came, they took our phones and took photographs. It was like they were shooting a film, they come and go but they don't do anything. We don't know what we are going to do, we have no money left,” said an Iranian woman.

The İHD report described the refugees' dire living conditions at the border, as many had been affected by the tear gas deployed by the Greek police but had not received treatment. The closest place to buy food is 3 km away and difficult to reach, even if people have money. The refugees also have a difficult time finding drinking water and water to wash oneself. There were large numbers of at-risk groups including children, pregnant women, elderly people and people with illnesses.

It emphasized that the refugees needed to be ensured proper living conditions and that the people responsible for putting them in this situation should be brought to justice. It urged the government to not use refugees as leverage in its deal-making with Europe, and encouraged European countries to open their borders to refugees and allow them the right to live and the right to freedom of movement.