Making Landmark Strides: Türkiye's Addition to the Statelessness Index

Melis Gebeş, Programme Manager, Capacity Building & Advocacy Unit, Refugee Rights Turkey (RTT)
/ 6 mins read

Last month, Refugee Rights Turkey (RRT) and ENS launched a new country profile for Türkiye on the Statelessness Index. This new country profile assesses Türkiye’s law, policy and practice on the protection of stateless people and the prevention and reduction of statelessness against international norms and good practices, identifying achievements and highlighting areas that require improvement. This blog aims to shed light on the critical issues at play and the imperative for concerted efforts towards a future where no individual is denied the fundamental right to a nationality.

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Statelessness in Türkiye: A Closer Look

In Türkiye, the prevalence of statelessness is linked to the complexities of migration, particularly within the context of its strategic position as both a major transit and destination country for refugees and migrants. Hosting over three million registered refugees, Türkiye hosts one of Europe’s largest refugee populations. The individuals who seek refuge in Türkiye are predominantly from countries which have historically been affected by statelessness, notably neighbouring Syria as well as Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq.

Challenges in Data Collection

Official figures from 2023, jointly released by the Turkish Statistical Institute and the Directorate General of Civil Registration and Citizenship Affairs, reported 415 stateless individuals in Türkiye. Additionally, migration statistics from 2022, compiled by the Turkish Statistical Institute and the Presidency of Migration Management, reported 109 stateless individuals who immigrated to Türkiye.

However, these datasets present only a partial view of the statelessness situation in Türkiye, as data is incomplete and the stateless population in Türkiye has never been mapped. Data collected by the Government includes categories such as 'unknown nationality' and ‘Palestinian’ which may overlap with the data on stateless people and mask the presence of stateless individuals among people recorded under these categories. Moreover, the datasets exclude beneficiaries of temporary protection who fled Syria, despite the likelihood of stateless individuals within this category. Crucially, the status of individuals recorded as stateless remains ambiguous and it is unclear from the data if they benefit from statelessness status, international protection, or hold a residence permit.

The data limitations outlined highlight significant challenges in accurately identifying and addressing the needs of stateless individuals in Türkiye. It is imperative to acknowledge these data constraints and strive towards enhancing data collection methodologies to gain a deeper insight into and improve the lives of stateless communities.

Statelessness Determination Procedure and Implementation

In 2015, Türkiye acceded to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons without reservations, signalling a significant step towards fulfilling its obligations in protecting stateless individuals within its borders, although it has not acceded to the three other core statelessness conventions. Moreover, Türkiye is a party to most relevant human rights instruments. Türkiye's constitutional provision mandates alignment with international treaty commitments, requiring Turkish authorities to implement provisions related to the protection of stateless people and the prevention of statelessness.

Türkiye established a dedicated statelessness determination procedure (SDP) through its main migration legislation, the Law on Foreigners and International Protection adopted in 2013. This procedure provides a clear and structured pathway for stateless individuals to obtain recognition of their status and access essential rights in the country. Managed by the migration management authorities, the SDP is an administrative procedure overseen by the Presidency of Migration Management. Through the SDP, stateless individuals in Türkiye can obtain statelessness status and receive the Stateless Person Identification Document.

This official document not only acknowledges statelessness status but also confers recognised stateless people the right to lawfully reside in Türkiye. With automatic renewal every two years, as long as the person’s statelessness situation continues, this document provides a safeguard against deportation, except in cases of severe threats to public order or security. Furthermore, stateless individuals granted this status have access to education and Türkiye's General Health Insurance Scheme, ensuring their basic needs are met. Additionally, they have the right to apply for a travel document (i.e. a foreigners’ passport) and a work permit, subject to the conditions outlined in the law. There are no facilitated routes to naturalisation for stateless people.

However, the effective implementation of Türkiye's SDP is inconsistent due to some barriers to access it, including the absence of information on it. This lack of public awareness directly affects stateless individuals, who are unaware of the available avenues and procedural steps within the SDP. Consequently, stateless individuals frequently encounter difficulties in accessing the SDP, exacerbating their challenges in obtaining official recognition and accessing fundamental rights and services. This informational gap not only hinders the effective functioning of the SDP but also contributes to the marginalisation and vulnerability of stateless individuals in Türkiye.

Enhancing awareness and understanding of the SDP among stateless communities and relevant stakeholders is paramount. This entails a multifaceted approach that goes beyond simply disseminating information about the procedural aspects of the SDP. It also involves ensuring that stateless individuals are fully informed about their rights and entitlements once officially recognised as stateless by the SDP, along with guidance on the application process.

Challenges in Birth Registration and Nationality Laws

In Türkiye, significant hurdles persist for birth registration procedures and nationality laws, leaving some children vulnerable to statelessness. Of particular concern are beneficiaries of temporary protection who fled Syria, whose children risk being left without a nationality.

While Türkiye is not a party to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, Türkiye's nationality law offers a pathway to prevent childhood statelessness by allowing otherwise stateless children born in Türkiye to apply for nationality. However, there are challenges with implementation and the practicalities of this process present substantial obstacles particularly for many families residing in the country who fled from Syria. An important obstacle is the difficulty in registering their children's births in Türkiye. This registration process involves the submission of a birth report obtained from a healthcare facility, leading to the issuance of a birth certificate. However, factors such as inconsistent and arbitrary practices within both the Population and Civil Registry Department and the Provincial Directorates for Migration Management, home births, parental unawareness of registration requirements, and child, early and forced marriage (including due to reluctance in approaching the authorities) often result in the failure to register births, depriving children of essential birth certification.

Furthermore, Syria's gender-discriminatory nationality law exacerbates the situation by denying mothers the right to confer nationality on children born outside Syria when paternity from a Syrian father cannot be established. As a result, some children born in Türkiye to Syrian temporary protection beneficiaries may not obtain Syrian nationality. Despite being otherwise stateless and entitled to protection, the absence of birth certification complicates their situation.

Addressing these issues requires a nuanced understanding of how barriers in birth registration and nationality laws intersect with the risk of statelessness, particularly for vulnerable populations like beneficiaries of temporary protection who fled Syria. By recognising the interplay between these factors, policymakers and stakeholders can devise targeted strategies to mitigate the risks and ensure that otherwise stateless children born in Türkiye have access to nationality, safeguarding them against the risk of statelessness.

Progressing Together Towards Upholding Rights for Stateless Communities

Türkiye's addition to the Statelessness Index is a landmark moment in the journey towards addressing the situation of stateless people in the country. This inclusion, made possible through collaborative efforts between RRT and ENS, provides a crucial opportunity to assess progress, identify challenges, and forge partnerships aimed at protecting the rights of stateless people and preventing the statelessness. It serves as a reminder of our collective responsibility to ensure that every person enjoys the fundamental right to a nationality and the dignity of belonging. By working together towards this common goal, we can make significant strides in breaking the cycle of statelessness and ensuring the protection of stateless people in Türkiye and beyond.

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