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International support needed to help Turkey’s displaced people

30 November 2006

Turkey lacks the capacity and commitment to resolve the problems of its more than one million displaced people living in appalling conditions in the country’s big cities and is in need of crucial international support, says a new report by Minority Rights Group International and three Turkish based human rights groups.

The report argues that, as in Bosnia, the international community must pump in money and expertise to help Turkey come up with a comprehensive plan to resettle and compensate the country’s displaced people most of whom are minority Kurds. “This is not just a problem for Turkey, as the EU decides on Turkey’s accession they must also be willing to help Turkey deal with its huge displaced population,” says Nurcan Kaya, MRG’s Turkey programmes officer.

The most prominent reason for large-scale displacement in Turkey has been the armed conflict, which has seen intense fighting between government forces and the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). Government forces armed villagers and set up ‘village guard’ units to fight the PKK making people more vulnerable to attacks by the rebels. Turkish security forces have been responsible for burning entire Kurdish villages that rejected the village guard system. “People were terrified that if they accept the system they would be attacked by the PKK and if they didn’t they would have been driven out of their homes or refused security making it impossible to live in the village,” says Kaya.

The causes of displacement also continue to act as obstacles for the return of displaced people. “Security restrictions and the dangers of landmines have forced people out of their homes because they can’t use their land to cultivate or rear livestock. These factors also prevent their return” Kaya adds.

Clustered around Istanbul and other the big cities the displaced are amongst the poorest, with restricted access to health and facing obstacles in education and unemployment. The lack of proper shelter and the cost of accommodation in the city have forced most of the displaced people to live in overcrowded conditions.

Amongst the displaced, is Turkey’s little known Assyrian population, a religious minority professing the Christian faith. Most of the Assyrian’s fled to Germany and Sweden and hence have been stripped of their Turkish citizenship preventing them from claiming back their homes.

The European Commission has since 2003 successively highlighted the need for Turkey to better handle the problem of displacement. Turkey has responded with adhoc compensatory laws and settlement schemes, which are often ineffective and at times arbitrary. Few displaced people are aware of their rights and able to access such schemes. Under pressure from the EU, Turkey recently came up with a compensation scheme but MRG says January 2007 deadline to lodge claims for compensation is unrealistic and must be extended.

“Unless something is done about the situation of Turkey’s displaced people the EU and international community will be responsible for simply sitting back and watching blatant human rights violations take place,” says Kaya.

For more information or to arrange interviews with Nurcan Kaya, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].

Notes to editors

  • The report is jointly published by the Foundation for Social and Legal Studies (TOHAV), the Diyarbakir Bar Association, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) and the Mesopotamian Culture and Solidarity Association (MEZODER).
  • The report’s reference to displaced persons are not just those who have lost their homes in the conflict and faced human rights violations, but also people forced to leave their villages by economic collapse resulting from conflict.
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.