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Turks seeking asylum in rising numbers

13 June 20240 comments

Increasing numbers of Turkish citizens are seeking asylum abroad, new data shows.

Last year, more than 100,000 Turks applied for asylum in EU countries, an 82 per cent increase from the previous year.

Turks now comprise the third largest national group seeking protection in the EU after Syrians and Afghans, according to the EU asylum agency.

And the number of people from Turkey arrested while trying to crossing the US-Mexico border has also been increasing – from around 1,400 in 2021 to nearly 15,500 last year.

The rise in Turkish citizens seeking asylum elsewhere might seem surprising, given the nation itself hosts a large population of refugees – mostly from Syria and Afghanistan.

Bahar Baser, an academic at Durham University in the UK who studies Turkish migration, says there are overlapping reasons for the exodus.

He says minorities, as the Kurds, and political dissidents have long faced persecution in Turkey and the country has been experiencing a prolonged economic crisis since 2018.

The re-election of divisive President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has dominated Turkish politics for the past 20 years, to yet another presidential term last May also helped cement a sense of fatalism about the country’s direction for some people, Mr Baser said.

“I call the recent migration a perpetual exodus. Maybe the seeds were already planted in the Gezi protests inn 2013 or later, in the many elections won by Erdoğan,” he told international media.

“People have been thinking about leaving, and slowly but surely, they do it,” he said. 

The Gezi protests were a series of mass anti-government demonstrations that precipitated a brutal crackdown from Turkish authorities.

Historically, people leaving Turkey and seeking asylum in the west have come mostly from minority groups – the Kurds in the 1990s, due to fighting between the state and insurgence groups, or supporters of the Gülen movement, which Erdoğan accused of being behind a failed coup attempt in 2016.

Thousands of members of the movement were imprisoned and purged from public institutions following the attempted coup.

“This time it is a more heterogeneous group,” Mr Baser said.

But Turks are finding it difficult to be accepted as bone fide refugees.

“European authorities look at Turkey and they say ‘yes, there is oppression, but it is not as bad as after the coup attempt’,” Mr Baser said.

“They look at the records of human rights violations, torture, and the proof the applicants provide. To be an activist who was silenced is not enough to be granted asylum,” he said.