HRDF: Migration and Trafficking in Turkey
Due to its geographical position Turkey has long been a transit destination for migration and trafficking. It’s economic and political stability and the ongoing unstable situation in some of its bordering countries is increasingly making Turkey an attractive destination both for migration as well as trafficking. We spoke to our member Human Resource Development Foundation which was established in 1988 about the situation of trafficking and their anti-trafficking programme.
Can you tell us briefly about the HRDF’s anti-trafficking program? How do you conduct training program? What kind of responses do you get from the stakeholders?
Founded in 1988, the Human Resource Development Foundation (HRDF) is a non-profit, non-governmental and autonomous organization in Turkey. HRDF started its Anti-Trafficking programme in 2003. Three main components of the Programme are: Victim Support, Awareness Raising and Trainings, and increasing programme capacity through national and international communication.
HRDF opened the first shelter in Turkey in 2004 to provide support to foreign victims of human trafficking, which had never been done before by an agency or an organization in Turkey. Meanwhile, a cooperation protocol was signed with the General Directorate of Security of the Ministry of Interior, and the Foundation became a part of the Turkish National Referral Mechanism to Combat Trafficking. Until now, majority of the women supported under our program has been from post Soviet Union countries. Turkey became a destination country for female labour migration from these countries. Majority of trafficking phenomenon takes place in the form of sexual exploitation during this female labour migration to Turkey. Main source countries of trafficking are Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Ukraine, Russia, and Moldova.
The most comprehensive training of HRDF was organised in 2004 for police, judges and prosecutors with the purpose of informing public officials about human trafficking. In the following years we have continued to provide trafficking seminars and workshops to law enforcement officers who work in the foreigners’ issues. The aim of the trainings are to inform them about basic human rights, violence against women, trafficking, how to identify trafficking, impacts of trauma on (potential) victims, international standards on human trafficking. Also, seminars for migrant women at detention center are provided. During these years informative material have also been developed and distributed.
The Committee on Status of Women has recently concluded with what most activists are saying some “gain” on sexual and reproductive rights. How do you see this impacting your work?
It is difficult to talk about some “gain” on part of women in Turkey. Violence against women has become more visible than ever, honor killings and other woman murders are among the daily life realities in Turkey. Conservative authorities more recently have started a discussion on abolishing/limiting abortion; service provision for reproductive health services is becoming more limited. Accepting women as mother and an auxiliary member of the family and society is gradually becoming a social norm and this role is supported by the state authorities. This tendency is also reflected in reproductive health service provision. It is difficult to access reproductive health services which support autonomy of women such as contraceptive service provision and abortion. Counseling services for reproductive health are nearly stopped as a result of the recent health transition program. The confidentiality of clients admitting to reproductive health services are not accepted as a priority and the individual data which is supposed to be kept confidential breached for conservative moral reasons. LGBT individuals although have become more visible for the last years, are under the risk of being attacked as this population hasn’t been protected from ancient moral thinking of masses and no attempt has been made from the state to change the misconception.
One of your focus area has also been addressing migration. Turkey has emerged as a destination country for migration and trafficking over the years. Can you give us an overview scenario of migration in Turkey?
Given the geographical position at the cross roads of Asia, Europe and Africa, Turkey faces migration flows as both a destination country and transit country.
Since the early 1990s, Turkey is a transit country for irregular migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan. Turkey has also long been a country of destination for migrants, who are either economic migrants or refugees/asylum seekers. It has recently emerged as a destination for migrants from Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Turkey is a country with a big population of asylum seekers. The country maintains a geographical limitation to its obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees in which it grants refugee status only to European asylum seekers. Migration issues in Turkey are shaped by its efforts to become a member of the European Union (EU), which are creating pressures for an overhaul of its immigration and asylum policies.
The number of persons of concern registered by UNHCR as of March 21, 2013 is 34,972 and the figures are expected to increase due to social and political developments in the region. Although Turkey is an important destination and transit country for migration and asylum, the infrastructure and legislation for providing support and protection for asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey is very limited. Due to the geographical limitation of Turkey to the international agreements, refugee status is not provided to asylum seekers coming from non-European countries and the applicants for asylum are expected to reside in cities which are called satellite cities. Due to the limited numbers for resettlement, asylum applicants constitute the majority of people in Turkey waiting for long years without reasonable protection and support mechanisms which are defined in the international human rights documents. The legislation for asylum and refugee protection is also rudimentary in Turkey; besides the social and health services the level of enjoyment of basic human rights for asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey is also very limited. On the other hand the health transition process of Turkey resulted in more exclusion of vulnerable groups including foreigners from health services.
Turkey has also become a destination country for nationals of transitional democracies, who are in search of better living conditions and job opportunities abroad in the face of conflicts or economic and social hardships prevailing in their own countries. Former Soviet Union countries are among the main countries of origin. Nationals of these countries may enter Turkey by a visa obtained at the border and may stay in Turkey for up to one month. Mostly, they come to Turkey in search of job opportunities, which are generally available for them only in illegal labour markets.
While their presence in Turkey is generally voluntary, their illegal work and resident status, nevertheless, make them vulnerable to exploitation and human rights violations. Some of them obtain legal residency through arranged marriages. Some end up in small workshops, in the tourism and entertainment sectors, or in private households, working illegally without any job security, insurance, or administrative and judicial safeguards. The majority of male workers are employed in the construction sector and females in domestic services.
In parallel to this circular migration, Turkey is a destination for human trafficking in the Black Sea region, with victims usually coming from former Soviet Union countries.
How do you ensure access to rights for migrant workers? What are your intervention programs to address issues affecting women migrant workers?
HRDF has extensive experience on human trafficking; asylum and refugees and irregular migration. Our human trafficking experience and the recent shifts in human trafficking problem has lead us to diverge in undocumented migration. Istanbul is a very complex metropolitan city with a high density of internal and external migration flaws. Istanbul attracts female labor migration from its neighboring countries. Our experiences and researches show that there is a considerable migrant laborer population in Istanbul. Working in underground conditions and unregulated sectors, these people are subject to rights violations. In Turkey, the conditions for migrants to get living and working permissions are not easy. Therefore many of these people become “undocumented” at some point in their labor journeys. To reach the migrant laborers, HRDF has designed and started to implement a project on undocumented labor migrants (both women and men) in January 2013. The aim of our project is to contribute to promotion and protection of the rights of undocumented migrants and victims of human trafficking and to the development of rights based policies regarding this population. We have designed a questionnaire for our baseline survey among migrant workers. Our questionnaire consists of questions about migrants’ pre-migration situation, their living and working conditions in Turkey; the rights violations that they have suffered and their medical and legal needs and finally their future projections. The questionnaires are being distributed among undocumented population since February by means of field workers. The survey will continue throughout the project.
Other activities include awareness raising of migrant workers on the laws and practices as well as possible threats in Turkey; counselling/ psychosocial support of migrant women staying at police detention centre; legal aid to migrant workers and a final report to declare our survey results to relevant state representatives to raise the awareness of policy makers and government officers. The project will also aim at bringing together other NGOs who work with migrants and creating a handbook covering policy/legislation issues to guide NGOs efforts to enhance migrants’ rights. During and after the project, it is planned that HRDF office will be a centre where migrants whether documented or undocumented can visit and share their problems. For this reason our office information is also distributed by the outreach worker. The project gives a special emphasis on female migrant workers, and also targets male migrant workers.
How do you see the current debates/ dialogues on VAW impact on the situation of women migrants in Turkey?
Migrant rights are an overlooked issue in Turkey. There are two main groups of migrants in Turkey: (i)asylum seekers/refugees; and (ii) migrant workers who in time could easily become undocumented migrants. For asylum seekers/refugees there are limited rights given by law or bylaws. On the other hand a recently amended “asylum and foreigner’s law“ could bring about some change in this area; it needs to be observed, evaluated. As for undocumented migrant woman and man there are no defined rights and no mechanism in place to access justice.
How do you see the importance of networking in relation ot your work in providing support for trafficked persons and migrant workers?
Turkey is a destination country for women trafficked from mainly Central Asian countries. Migrant workers are travelling from the same region as well. Limited or even no communication between organizations of origin countries and HRDF is an important barrier for improved victim support according to our observations. It is difficult for us to find counterparts in those countries, assuming mainly because language barriers as we do not have a Russian speaking staff in our office and they generally do not speak English. Also we believe that the number of civil organizations who would like to keep in touch with destination countries is small in this region.
How do you visualize a strong anti-trafficking alliance?
We believe that GAATW has already established the required principles of a strong alliance like having a common goal and shared values. We think that joint activities are very much desirable but also we know that it depends on the sources (financial, human resource etc.) of the alliance and individual organizations. We think that sharing of materials/experiences/methodologies is an important function that an alliance could assume which is something that is done by GAATW.