By William Reed
Iraqi Yazidis who fled the invasions and massacres of the Islamic State in 2014 and arrived in Turkey have not been given a legal status (“refugees” or “persons benefiting from temporary protection”) by the Turkish government.
An official of the prime ministry’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) said that Yazidis in their camp in the city of Mardin have been given “AFAD cards” with which they can benefit from health services in the camp.
Many Yazidis, however, do not want to be settled in Syrian refugee camps run by AFAD. So, they have been settled in the camps of the municipalities run by the pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP).
“They think that those in the Syrian camps are affiliated with the Islamic State,” said Ali Atalan, a Yazidi MP of Turkey’s Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). “They are scared of Islamic symbols there. Their historical and current memories of these symbols are still haunting them.”
A 2015 report by the Turkish Research Centre on Asylum and Migration (IGAM) details the serious problems Yazidis experience in Turkey. The most important one seems to be lack of a legal status.
“Although they came to Turkey in mass influxes, Turkey does not consider Yazidis as persons benefiting from ‘temporary protection.’ They could either apply for international protection (the regular asylum procedures) or seek humanitarian residence permits.
“Neither UNHCR nor other UN agencies visited the large majority of these refugee settlements in one year. Those who spend a lot of money to apply for asylum to UNHCR are given up to 2023 as the first interview date.
“Having acknowledged this, many poor Yazidi refugees are not willing to go to Ankara for lack of money and little hope of resettlement. Thus the principle of access to fair and efficient asylum procedures is largely violated. There is no durable solution for them in Turkey since they are still under trauma of attacks by Islamists.
“Yazidi refugees,” added the report, “are barely informed about their status in Turkey, their rights and their future. There is no mechanism of mass information.”
The report also detailed other problems Yazidis suffer from in Turkey in terms of their basic needs including food, water, shelter and education as well as their efforts of trying to find their family members with whom they lost contact with while fleeing Iraq or whom ISIS abducted.
Although Yazidis are struggling with all these problems – including poverty – they have still not been given any official status by the Turkish government. Hence, they cannot freely benefit from the health services of public hospitals. They are mostly dependent on philanthropic aid from individuals or NGOs.
“My experience at the Yazidi camp was devastating,” said Omer Eryilmaz, who worked as the health official at the Yazidi camp in Diyarbakir for three years. “At the beginning, around 5,800 Yazidis arrived at our camp. I was in the midst of a suffering people who had been exposed to savagery in Sinjar, Iraq.
“There were times when we were not able to provide medicine for the ill. Eleven Yazidis lost their lives due to health problems when I was there. Three were babies,” said Eryilmaz.
At a press conference held in August in Diyarbakir, a group of Yazidis staying at the Diyarbakir camp said that hospitals did not admit even the very seriously sick Yazidis due to their lack of a legal status. Mamê Anter (66), a cardiac patient, and Ilyas Xelep (65), who is blind, also joined the press conference and said that they needed to be urgently provided with health care.
“Arbitrary” Treatment by the Government
Metin Corabatir, president of the Ankara-based Research Centre on Asylum and Migration (IGAM) said, “According to Turkish law, temporary protection may be provided for foreigners who have arrived at or crossed the borders of Turkey in a massive influx situation seeking immediate and temporary protection.
“The actions to be carried out for the reception of such foreigners into Turkey, and their rights in Turkey shall be stipulated in a directive to be issued by the Council of Ministers.
“The relevant law requires it to be a mass influx of people for them to be granted official protection by the government. So if the Council of Ministers wants to, they can give Yazidis ‘temporary protection.’ But they don’t. I think this treatment is arbitrary.”
Despite all of the challenges, some Yazidis are trying to stand up for their right to health care. Bisar Icli, a researcher who worked at the Yazidi camp in Diyarbakir for 23 months, said that a Yazidi victim who has not been able to go to hospitals has filed a lawsuit against the immigration authority of the governor’s office of Diyarbakir that has not granted him a legal status.
The Yazidis are a Kurdish speaking people indigenous to northern Mesopotamia, but they are not Muslim. Their religion, Yazidism, is linked to ancient Mesopotamian religions.
The population of Yazidis in southeastern Turkey was around 80,000 until the 1970s. Most Yazidi villages and towns do not have a single Yazidi resident today. The estimated population of Yazidis is currently around 350, excluding the recent asylum seekers from Iraq and Syria.
The 1980s and 1990s witnessed massive immigration of Yazidis from their ancient lands in Turkey. Due to the continued persecution and economic challenges they were exposed to and with the escalation of the war between the Turkish army and the Kurdish PKK, the majority of Yazidis migrated from Turkey to Europe, especially to Germany.
Yazidis are one of the most persecuted peoples in history. They say that they have been subjected to 72 attempts at extermination, or attempted genocides. Many of these deadly attacks took place in the time of the Ottoman Empire.
Today, Yazidis count the genocide in 2014 by the self-proclaimed Islamic State caliphate as the 73rd one.
Meanwhile, Turkey, with its “secular” constitution and NATO membership, continues persecuting them or turns a blind eye to their daily suffering. It seems that Turkey is not a very humanitarian regime to non-Muslims, including its own citizens and asylum seekers and even the most desperate ones.
William Reed is a human rights activist and a student of Turkish language and history.