No way in, no way out: Apprehensions raise significant protection concerns along Turkey’s southern border

Up to 16,000 people have been displaced from Aleppo since government forces began a “renewed push” into the eastern part of the city on 15 November. Many have fled north towards the border with Turkey, and more can be expected as the fighting intensifies. They join an estimated 100,000 people already stranded on the Syrian side of the border. While international attention continues to focus on refugees and migrants entering, or attempting to enter, EU countries from Turkey, less consideration is given to the thousands of people trying to enter Turkey itself. Despite limited attention towards arrivals at the Turkish border, the number of people apprehended entering Turkey irregularly in October far exceeded the number who left in the same way.

Almost 100,000 people were reportedly apprehended along the Turkish borders with Syria and Iraq in September and October alone. By comparison, the Turkish Coast Guard reported only 2,437 ‘irregular migrants’ leaving Turkey and attempting the crossing to Europe in October, a figure 94.2% smaller than the number apprehended entering the country by land in the same month.

Disproportionate attention to refugees crossing to Greece and limited information about the number of people who manage to cross Turkey’s land borders undetected risks ignoring a large group of potentially vulnerable refugees and other migrants, who in many ways are invisible to the media and public eye. While Turkish officials claim that the country maintains an ‘open door’ policy for emergency situations, the land border has been effectively closed since March 2015, with strict visa requirements for Syrians entering Turkey by air or sea making it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to cross legally. While critical medical cases are being admitted through the two official border crossings that remain open with Syria, at most only 200 people are allowed entry per day – a fraction of the number apprehended by border guards when trying to cross irregularly.

Reports of violence, abuse, and deaths at the Turkey-Syria border only heighten concerns for the protection of people attempting to enter Turkey whilst fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq, although the Turkish government maintains that claims of violence “do not reflect the reality at the border.

Refugees and other migrants must also contend with the wall being constructed along Turkey’s 900km border with Syria – 200km of which has already been constructed. This project has a completion date of February 2017 and aims to fence off the entire border.

Figure 5: Individuals apprehended by Turkish authorities in October 2016

Syrians face physical and legal barriers to escape in other directions too. With an estimated 85,000 Syrians stuck at Syria’s border with Jordan, and strict visa requirements blocking the passage of refugees into Lebanon, exiting Syria has become an almost impossible task.

Nonetheless, it must be assumed that many do manage to flee into Turkey and onwards, with 2,970 refugees and other migrants arriving in Greece by sea in October alone. The 100,000 people apprehended by Turkish border guards throughout September and October make up just part of the total flow of refugees and other migrants entering Turkey irregularly.

Increased border restrictions often lead to irregular movements of people across borders, accompanied by increased risks for people on the move. IOM’s data shows that the number of people reporting experiences of trafficking or other exploitative practices along the Eastern Mediterranean route has increased from 6.5% in May, to 14% in September, a change likely tied to the closure of the Western Balkans route and the implementation of the EU-Turkey Agreement. Reported experiences include people being held against their will by non-governmental authorities (often smugglers), forced labour, and lack of payment for work throughout the journey to Europe.

In the same way, hidden, or ignored, people moving irregularly into Turkey likely face significant vulnerability and protection concerns, which need further and immediate attention.

For more information on this and other mixed migration issues in the Middle East, please access the Mixed Migration Platform’s October Mixed Migration Summary (accessible here).

Mixed Migration Platform: A new data and information resource on mixed migration flows in the Middle East

Migration is not a new phenomenon. Despite this, the recent movement of tens of thousands of people, primarily from Middle Eastern, African and Asian countries, to Europe has captured the public’s attention in new and staggering ways. This is particularly true of irregular migration. Given its unclear definition, a perceived lack of order marks it out as a ‘phenomenon’ that needs to be addressed.

The increase in the rate of migration of people to Europe over the course of the past three years has been a double-edged sword.

While it has shown that people on the move have critical needs, it has dominated the conversation, minimising the attention paid to other mixed migration movements in the Middle East, within different African regions and in Asia. As irregular migration to Europe has endured, attitudes towards people in mixed migration flows there, and further afield, have evolved. Initially people moving towards Europe – principally individuals in precarious protection situations – were welcomed and received with empathy; with continued arrivals, this compassionate reception shifted, and as borders became enforced the effects were felt all along the routes people travelled.

Mixed migration flows – which can be made up of refugees, asylum seekers, smugglers, traffickers, economic migrants, and other groups of displaced persons – are a reality of modern migration. They can be, and often are, non-linear and non-homogenous, and vary in size and composition (inclusive of race, nationality, religion, education and so on). In recent years the conflict in Syria has played a significant part in mixed migration flows to, within and from the Middle East; so too have conflict situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and countries in the Horn of Africa. The movements of people in the Middle East exist on a large and varied scale. With much of the attention focused specifically on Syrian nationals within these flows, information around the humanitarian, social, economic and political implications of the movement of other nationalities in the region has been less highlighted.

In relation to such large scale and enduring migration in the region, three things have become evident:

  1. Major information gaps exist and there is a need to undertake data gathering, research and analysis to address these.
  2. Advocacy around key issues relevant to mixed migration flows is needed.
  3. People moving irregularly often have acute and differing protection concerns, as well as key information needs.

In response to this, seven international NGOs (ACAPS, DRC, Ground Truth Solutions, IMPACT Initiatives, Internews, INTERSOS, and Translators with Borders) have come together to address these key issues regarding mixed migration in the Middle East and have created the Mixed Migration Platform (MMP). The platform’s work is divided into two pillars – the generation and dissemination of quality data, research and analysis to inform the policy, programming and advocacy work of relevant actors, and the provision of quality data to people within mixed migration flows moving to, within and from the Middle East. MMP will also strive to ensure the utility of the information generated through outreach including conferences, workshops, bilateral meetings and representation at key events.

As one MMP partner states, information changes lives, and with this in mind the platform will work to ensure the vulnerabilities of those within mixed migration flows, are addressed.

MMP has begun preliminary analysis and is in the process of developing a comprehensive website that will provide a repository for its work. While this development is in process, check back here for mixed migration related blog posts and content in the coming weeks.