A fire broke out at Turkey’s Izmir Harmandali Removal Centre on 23 June 2021 because of an electrical problem at the facility, according to information provided to the Global Detention Project by a non-governmental actor in Turkey. The fire started on the fifth floor of the centre where refugees are held. Firefighters evacuated the floor, but after the fire was brought under control, a 21-year-old Syrian asylum seeker was found dead. The Turkish Migration Department concluded that because the asylum seeker had not left his room during the fire, he must have committed suicide.
According to a report from the Turkish news service SOL, a staff member working at the removal centre told the news agency that refugees and asylum seekers held in the centre are constantly insulted, ridiculed, and humiliated by guards. The staff member said: “I saw that almost all of the male and female security guards are racist and anti-refugee. They don’t receive any training. Especially all of the shift supervisors – except one – are rude.” The staff member added: “Even raising your voice a little bit and demanding a phone card makes the security guards angry.” According to him, as a punishment, people are taken to the so-called foreign terrorist fighter floor, left alone for hours in a room, handcuffed behind their backs. The staff member also said that the centre’s conditions create such feelings of hopelessness that people end up hurting themselves because of it: “I’ve seen young refugees break their arm” just to go to hospital. In addition, he reported that in one case, a woman gave birth and the child had to be kept in hospital under observation. In the meantime, they brought the woman back to the removal centre and left her alone in a room without any support despite having a caesarean delivery and needing care. Another employee said that during the summer, the centre is constantly over capacity and food is sometimes not provided to detainees.
The problems at the Izmir Harmandali Removal Centre are indicative of broader problems across Turkey’s detention system that have been aggravated by the COVID-19. According to a report by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, the deteriorating situations at Izmir and other removal centres have been compounded by the fact that lawyers, interpreters, and civil society advocates have been reluctant to enter removal centres out of fear of COVID-19 contamination, and meetings with families were stopped. The removal centre in Ankara did not accept any lawyers visiting after 5PM and lawyers had difficulties examining the files of their potential clients. At the Kirkkale removal centre, ECRE’s report found that requests for legal aid were not being delivered to the bar association and requests for assistance were mainly being received through the family members of detainees or the UNHCR.
According to a study on COVID-19 barriers and response strategies for refugees and undocumented migrants in Turkey, published in the Journal of Migration and Health in December 2020, Turkey hosts the largest number of “forced migrants” in the world, with approximately 3.6 million Syrians granted temporary protection and around 400,000 refugees and asylum seekers of other nationalities. The study mentions that while the Turkish Ministry of Health has taken various steps to provide health care to for all residents since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in Turkey, there have been important challenges in health care provision for refugees, migrants under temporary protection, and other undocumented migrants, including language barriers preventing access to reliable information and access to health services for chronic conditions. Additionally, according to the research, the registration processes of undocumented patients in health centres has faced significant delays. There is a “stateless” category in the Ministry of Health registration system that may be used to register undocumented migrants. Yet, this has not been implemented in every health centre as it is largely dependent on the care providers’ decision to accept undocumented patients or not. There have also been issues regarding the distribution of free masks through pharmacies, as people would receive a text message to collect their masks according to their identification number. However, many migrants do not have identification numbers, therefore limiting their access to the masks. Another issue identified by the study is that when undocumented migrants seek health care, they risk being deported or being reported to the police. This has caused widespread fear among many refugees and undocumented migrants, fearing deportation or a loss of residency if they tested positive for COVID-19.
The government also implemented restrictive measures for entry and exit from refugee camps, including temperature checks prior to entry. Those individuals suspected of having COVID-19 are usually transferred to hospital, tested for COVID-19 and depending upon their condition, sent back to the camps for isolation. As of 2 July 2021, Turkey had recorded around 5.4 million COVID-19 cases and 49,774 related deaths.
- SOL, “GCM Employees Talked About the Situation of Refugees: Ill-Treatment, Humiliation, Inhumane Conditions,” 25 June 2021, https://haber.sol.org.tr/haber/ggm-calisanlari-siginmacilarin-durumunu-anlatti-kotu-muamele-asagilama-insanlik-disi-kosullar
- SonDakika.com, “1 Asylum Seeker Lost His Life in the Fire at the Harmandali Removal Centre,” 23 June 2021, https://www.sondakika.com/haber/haber-son-dakika-harmandali-geri-gonderme-merkezi-nde-cikan-14220937/
- S. B. Özvaris, “COVID-19 Barriers and Response Strategies for Refugees and Undocumented Migrants in Turkey,” Journal of Migration and Health, Volume 1-2, 2020, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S266662352030012X
- European Council on Refugees and Exiles, “Access to Detention Facilities,” Asylum Information Database, 31 May 2021, https://asylumineurope.org/reports/country/turkey/detention-asylum-seekers/detention-conditions/access-detention-facilities/
- Firefighters On a Crane on the Top Floor of Harmandali Removal Centre, (SonDakika.com, “1 Asylum Seeker Lost His Life in the Fire at the Harmandali Removal Centre,” 23 June 2021, https://www.sondakika.com/haber/haber-son-dakika-harmandali-geri-gonderme-merkezi-nde-cikan-14220937/)