Wafaa was born a year and a half ago in Istanbul, but does not appear in any registry nor does he have a nationality: he is stateless. Her father, Sayed, feared that by asking for an identification document for his daughter, the administration would demand to see his wife’s papers. Wafaa’s mother has been living in Turkey irregularly since 2019. Although Wafaa was born on Turkish soil, the authorities do not grant her citizenship because neither of her parents is Turkish. She could obtain Syrian nationality because her parents are from Homs, but they fear going to the consulate and undergoing a lengthy interrogation by the authorities.
Erdogan says that Turkey cannot receive more refugees and calls for a “sharing of responsibilities” in the Afghan crisis
“I have not done military service and in Turkey I have temporary protection recognized like most Syrians. I know that Wafaa needs papers, but I am afraid to contact the Syrian authorities,” says Sayed. The stateless condition of little Wafaa supposes a deprivation of rights that the rest of the children have: access to free education and health. This lack of rights gave this family a scare a few months ago, when Wafaa caught a bad flu that affected a lung.
“If you don’t have papers, you have to pay more for the consultation and it’s very expensive. We found a Syrian doctor who came to the house and luckily in a couple of weeks she was recovered. We were very scared,” says Sayed.
According to a recently published report by the Ankara Center for Migration Studies, there are 750,000 stateless minors from Syrian families in Turkey. If you add those born to Afghan and Iraqi families and unaccompanied minors who have entered the country, the figure could rise to one million. These children do not have any nationality nor do they have a protection document in the country. “They cannot obtain Turkish citizenship according to the law. Turkish officials consider them to be Syrian nationals,” explains Murat Erdogan, director of the Center for Migration Studies. The report notes that these families, who have temporary protected status in the country, do not request the same document for their newborns, a crucial step in accessing health care and education. Refugee parents do not register their children due to language or economic barriers, the research adds.
“If they are not registered, everything is problems. If their child gets sick, they have to pay more in the hospital and there is a risk that the doctor will call the authorities and they will be deported because they do not have documentation that legalizes their situation in the country”, says Nuray, an expert lawyer in law migratory. “In the end, it depends on the official who assists you. It is a situation of extreme vulnerability,” she adds.
Erdogan advises the authorities of the hospital where the delivery took place and the officials of the migration offices to accompany the refugees in the process of registering the newborns to avoid negligence and a violation of their rights. However, in the last three years the authorities have admitted practically no new registrations for temporary protection or refugee status. Turkey has gone from a policy of open borders after the start of the war in Syria in 2011, to establish a ban de facto in the admission of new hosts. Refugees go through a maze of offices in order to obtain some kind of documentation. “The main problem is registration. The families go to the offices and they are closed, they are thrown out of the building or they do not accept any type of document”, explains Nuray.
Turkey hosts about four million refugees, mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently, the country is experiencing a serious economic crisis with a rapid devaluation of its currency and inflation approaching 80%. Economic uncertainty has led to the proliferation of xenophobic speeches in various opposition parties, who see anti-refugee policies as a gold mine to attack Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ahead of next year’s presidential elections. This xenophobic climate has led to recent policies such as not allowing refugees to move from one province to another, or not allowing them to rent a house in certain neighborhoods. These daily barriers make the entire registration process for minors born in Turkey even more difficult.
While humanitarian organizations have calculated an estimated number of refugee children born in Turkey, the number of unaccompanied minors currently residing in the country is unknown. Most of these young people are of Afghan and Iraqi nationality, and either came to Turkey accompanied by close family members or entered illegally to seek work or try to cross into Greece.
“Even if you are under 18, the authorities consider you an adult, not a child,” says Murat Erdogan. “Therefore, they cannot benefit from child protection rights. In most cases, they are considered adults because of the difficulty of carrying out medical tests to confirm their age”, he adds.
According to the latest official government figures, there are 22,000 Afghans registered in Turkey. Several NGOs estimate that the figure could rise to 400,000 or 500,000, if those without official documentation are taken into account. “It is the most abandoned population group because they do not usually have family networks to help them. The system takes advantage of this and they end up in child labor networks”, laments Nuray.