Turkey: Refugees and asylum-seekers left to fend for themselves

Where do you go when you’ve lost everything and there’s nowhere left to turn?

“I have four children, so I couldn’t save them all from drowning. One day later, I identified the dead bodies.”

Turkey is hosting 3 million asylum-seekers and refugees, the majority coming from Syria, but also from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. This represents an enormous share of the refugees fleeing war and persecution across the Middle East, while other countries are doing very little or trying to keep refugees out of their borders.

Haji Shafi and Raciye’s story shows how their unbearable situation in Turkey led them to risk everything – with disastrous consequences – trying to find a way to support their families.

Haji Shafi and his sister Raciye, originally from Afghanistan, travelled to Turkey seeking safety. They wanted to find work to support themselves, and ensure that their children could receive a decent education – something they said would not be possible in Afghanistan. But they quickly realised that they couldn’t remain there, as they had no support available to them – no hope of a job or chance of a better future for their children.

They tried in vain to find work in Turkey, but found nothing open to them. Haji Shafi said he couldn’t return to Afghanistan as he had received threats from the Taliban, so he saw no option but to try to move on from Turkey to Greece, in the hope of a better life in Europe. Lacking a safer alternative, they felt they had little choice but to risk their lives crossing the Aegean Sea to make a new life for their families.

So in October 2015, Haji Shafi paid $7,000 to smugglers to get his wife Nazila and their four children, plus his sister Raciye, her husband Mohammad Fahim and their three children to Europe.

Like far too many others before them, their story ended in tragedy.

As Haji Shafi says: “The weather was very bad – very rainy – there were high waves. People on the boat were very afraid and started jumping into the water. The boat turned over, and I couldn’t save all my children, because I have four.”

The boat turned over, and I couldn’t save all my children, because I have four.
Haji Shafi

Two of Haji Shafi’s beloved sons – Yusuf, aged five and Yunus, aged three - died, along with Raciye’s six-year-old daughter, Farah.

“One day later, I identified the dead bodies. We were shocked by this accident, now we can’t make a plan – we can’t make any decision. We are shocked.”

Even after tragedy had struck, forcing the families to return to Turkey, they found no help anywhere. Their savings gone, they initially slept under a bridge by the sea. A chance encounter with another man from Afghanistan meant they had somewhere to live, as he welcomed the traumatised families into his home.

But beyond that, there is little hope – no support for them, nowhere left to turn. Afghans don’t receive full refugee status in Turkey nor are they afforded any kind of integration opportunities. Can a country be considered safe if asylum-seekers and refugees do not have access to jobs or education?

The families know they can’t go to Afghanistan or Europe, as Europe’s borders are closed for refugees. They are now bravely working out how they can face their future.

Amnesty International is pushing governments to find solutions to the global refugee crisis. We call on governments to ensure that asylum-seekers and refugees have access to safe and legal routes to reach Europe and other wealthy countries, so they don’t have to risk their lives in the hope of a better future. We also call on other States to share the financial responsibility for hosting refugees, so it doesn’t fall on a few countries that are overwhelmed and ill equipped to provide the necessary support.

Amnesty International has researchers on the ground in Turkey as well as around the world, gathering evidence and working to pile the pressure on States to act and respond, so there are no more tragedies like Haji Shafi and Raciye’s.

You can also help keep our vital work going around the world by making a donation.