|05ANKARA2258||2005-04-21 08:39:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Ankara|
1. (U) Summary: The GOT in March summarily deported a Syrian
army deserter without allowing the office of the UN High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to review his asylum
petition. The Syrian, who was acquitted in a Turkish court
on terrorism charges, claimed that because he is a Kurd and a
deserter, he would face persecution if returned to his
country. UNHCR officials maintain Turkish authorities should
have allowed them to interview the Syrian. An MFA official
said the Syrian waited until the last minute to claim asylum,
and by the time MFA learned of the case it was too late to
intervene. End Summary.
Police Detain Syrian Deserter
2. (U) Ahmed Muhammed Ibrahim, born in Haseke, Syria in 1984,
deserted from the Syrian Army and entered southeastern Turkey
in August 2004. Within days of his arrival, Turkish police
arrested Ibrahim in the village of Havuzlu near the Syrian
border and charged him with having an affiliation with the
terrorist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). A Diyarbakir court
tried Ibrahim and acquitted him. Ibrahim filed an asylum
petition on March 23, 2005, one day before he was released.
On March 25, Turkish authorities returned him to Syria
without allowing UNHCR to review his case.
3. (U) Steve Corliss, deputy representative at the UNHCR
Ankara office, told us UNHCR learned of Ibrahim's petition on
March 23 and immediately contacted the MFA. Ibrahim
maintained that because he is a Kurd and a deserter, he could
face persecution if forced to return to Syria. UNHCR wanted
to interview Ibrahim to determine whether he qualified for
asylum. Corliss said MFA officials indicated they would
likely comply with the request. But Ibrahim was returned to
Syria two days later without being provided access to the
4. (U) Turkey is a signatory to the UN Convention Relating to
the Status of Refugees; however, the GOT exercises its option
under the Convention of accepting obligations only with
respect to refugees from Europe. The GOT reviews the few
petitions filed each year by migrants from Europe and grants
refugee and asylum status to qualifying applicants.
Petitions filed by migrants from countries on Turkey's
eastern borders are referred to UNHCR. If UNHCR approves the
petitions, the refugees can stay in Turkey temporarily until
they can be resettled in a third country.
UNHCR Unable to Review Petition
5. (C) Corliss said cooperation between the GOT and UNHCR has
generally improved in recent years; however, in cases
involving allegations of PKK affiliation GOT authorities
still have a tendency to summarily deport migrants even if
they file asylum petitions. In two previous cases in recent
months, Turkish authorities returned Syrian Kurds to Syria
without allowing UNHCR to review their asylum claims. These
cases differed from the Ibrahim example, because they
involved Syrians who had been convicted in Turkey of PKK
involvement and sought asylum after serving their sentences.
While Corliss believes UNHCR should have been allowed access
to the two convicts, the Ibrahim case is more troubling
because Ibrahim was acquitted in court.
6. (U) Corliss said it is not clear whether UNHCR would have
approved Ibrahim's petition, but army deserters in general
may have a legitimate fear of persecution if returned to
their country of origin. The MFA has not responded to a
UNHCR request for an explanation of the legal rationale for
7. (U) Iskender Okyay, head of the Migration and Asylum
Department at the MFA Directorate General for Consular
Affairs, called the Ibrahim case a "silly story" resulting
from a series of missteps. Okyay said Ibrahim told police he
came to Turkey with the intention of working for his uncle in
Istanbul. However, during a telephone conversation his uncle
advised him to enter northern Iraq and seek assistance from
Kurdistan Democratic Party Chairman Massoud Barzani. Turkish
police arrested him as he was heading for the Iraqi border.
Okyay speculated that the reference to Barzani may have
caused the police to accuse Ibrahim of PKK involvement; he
said he is not aware of any evidence indicating a possible
link to the PKK.
MFA: Missteps Led to Summary Deportation
8. (U) Okyay said Ibrahim expressed no interest in filing for
asylum, nor did he express fear of persecution on return to
Syria, until his trial proceedings were nearly completed,
some seven months after his arrest (Note: Ibrahim's lawyer
claims his client told authorities he wished to seek asylum
during his arrest and during a December court hearing. End
Note). In addition to filing the application late, Okyay
said, the attorney submitted the petition to police and sent
a copy to Amnesty International, rather than to the MFA.
Police officials apparently determined that Ibrahim's case
was not legitimate; most likely, they assumed Ibrahim's
attorney advised him to claim a fear of persecution to avoid
deportation. MFA did not get word until one day before the
deportation. If word had come just a couple of days sooner,
Okyay averred, he would have stopped the process and enabled
UNHCR to interview Ibrahim.
9. (C) We asked whether law enforcement authorities in Turkey
are trained to properly screen asylum applications. Okyay
said UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration
provide training to Turkish police on asylum/refugee issues.
However, he acknowledged the system is "deficient." He said
the GOT is currently debating how to reform the process. In
Okyay's view, the best solution would be to establish a
civilian authority to screen asylum applications and make
final judgments. Under the current system, he said, the
police have too much power -- the same authorities detain
irregular migrants and determine whether their asylum
applications are valid.
10. (U) Okyay said MFA has instructed the Turkish Embassy in
Damascus to inquire about the welfare of Ibrahim. The
Embassy has not reported yet, but according to Amnesty
International Ibrahim is being held in a Damascus prison.
11. (C) Turkish police and Jandarma are unlikely to be
sympathetic to asylum petitions, particularly if they involve
Kurds from Syria, Iraq or Iran. Ibrahim is exactly the kind
of migrant Turkey intended to keep out when it set a
geographical limit to its obligations under the UN
convention. In cases like these, law enforcement authorities
feel they are protecting their country by returning the
migrants before UNHCR can interfere, and potentially prolong
the migrants' stay in Turkey.