Refugee Solidarity Network

Access to State-Funded Legal Aid Services by Asylum-Seekers and Migrants in Turkey: Challenges and Opportunities

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This report was produced by Refugee Rights Turkey (RRT) in the course of a partnership framework with US-based Refugee Solidarity Network (RSN) on ways to strengthen the availability and quality of free-of-charge legal assistance and representation services for refugees and other vulnerable migrants in Turkey. Legal information and assistance is a key prerequisite to ensure refugees’ and migrants’ effective access to protection, rights, and safeguards in their country of asylum. In countries like Turkey with existing state-funded legal aid traditions, legal aid can play an important role in enabling access to justice for refugees and other vulnerable migrants.

This English language version of the report provides an evaluation of the opportunities and challenges of Turkey’s state-funded legal aid scheme administered by bar associations in helping address the vast amount of legal assistance needs of almost 4 million refugees. As such, the report is released with two international audiences in mind. The report may be of interest to international readers (including those representing governmental agencies), and international organizations or NGOs that are interested in understanding an important aspect of Turkey’s refugee protection landscape. The report, its coverage of the challenges encountered in the inclusion of refugees and migrants in Turkey’s legal aid framework, and the subsequent efforts to address them, may also be of relevance for international readers interested in exploring and gauging the potentials of the state-funded legal aid model as an access to justice multiplier in other national contexts beyond Turkey.

Turkey currently hosts over 3.6 million refugees from neighboring Syria in addition to another 300,000 asylum-seekers from other countries of origin including Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. The country also deals with significant irregular migration flows mainly transiting Turkey in the direction of the EU. Migration and asylum procedures in Turkey are overseen by the Directorate General of Migration Management on the basis of a comprehensive new domestic law framework that came into force in 2014. While the overall supply of legal information and assistance to refugees and migrants in Turkey currently falls short of the population’s needs, NGO service providers such as RRT as well as the state-funded legal aid scheme play important roles in facilitating access to such services, and ultimately to legal protection.

Refugee Rights Turkey (RRT) is a leading NGO legal assistance provider for refugees, asylum seekers and detained migrants in Turkey. The organization delivers a range of specialized legal information and representation services in connection with asylum and migration procedures and access to rights issues under Turkish law. RRT also offers a range of trainings and other expertise support services to lawyers and CSO legal practitioners across Turkey, and advocates for improvements in Turkey’s legislation and policies affecting refugees and migrants in line with international standards.

Refugee Solidarity Network (RSN), a non-profit organization based in New York, works to protect the rights of people uprooted from their homes and seeks to strengthen the communities where they seek safety. In partnership with advocates and local stakeholders around the world, RSN aims to develop capacities in refugee host countries outside the United States and advance legal frameworks that uphold human rights. RSN was founded upon the belief that the complexity of forced migration requires a flexible, collaborative response focused on achieving sustainable solutions.

Since 2015, RSN and RRT have been working in close partnership with the goals of expanding and strengthening RRT’s legal services for refugees and migrants and of developing a comprehensive capacity-building program aiming to channel expertise and experience to lawyers and other legal professionals in Turkey on matters of refugee law, domestic asylum and migration procedures and remedies. RSN and RRT have also worked together to develop a comprehensive range of legal information materials for refugees made available in multiple languages and covering key aspects of the Turkish asylum system. Currently, work is ongoing for the development of two separate online information and dissemination platforms targeting refugee communities and lawyers respectively. In addition to advocacy and capacity-building efforts vis-à-vis the state-funded legal aid scheme in Turkey, RSN and RRT are also exploring the potentials of pro bono partnerships between NGO service providers and law firms in helping expand the supply of quality legal services available for refugees in Turkey.

While legal protection of refugees and development of legal aid services in Turkey is the immediate focus of the RSN-RRT cooperative framework, the two organizations also work together to contribute to similar efforts for the development of rights-based approaches and capacity-building efforts in other national contexts, particularly comparable countries in the Global South either hosting similarly largescale refugee populations or dealing with otherwise complex migration flows.

In this light, the present English language version of this report does not only seek to share with international audiences the findings related to Turkey’s state-funded legal aid mechanism and how it has thus far served protection-seekers, but to also convey a key aspect of Turkey’s overall experience in developing a national refugee protection framework in the midst of a historic influx in recent years. It is considered that the Turkish experience bears relevance particularly for developing countries hosting large numbers of refugees that do not have well-established refugee protection frameworks or systems. In such settings, refugee arrivals are often met with international humanitarian support in the context of limited rights and services by national institutions. Throughout the evolution of the Syrian refugee influx and the humanitarian response in Turkey, RSN and RRT have advocated for more attention and emphasis on long-term rights-based approaches as a critical complement to the myriad services emphasized by the initial response focusing on short-term humanitarian needs.

RSN and RRT hope that this situated assessment of Turkey’s state-funded legal aid scheme can offer insights of value for policy makers, donors and rights advocates involved with refugee protection challenges not only in Turkey but also other national contexts in the developing world. Hopefully, the report can play a modest role in promoting South-South dialogue on refugee protection issues with a view to exploring effective, efficient, and sustainable access to justice solutions for refugees in host states struggling with limited resources and strains on existing institutional capabilities. This report was produced in the context of a project jointly implemented by RSN and RRT and supported by the US State Department Bureau for Population Refugees and Migration (PRM).

The two project partners would like to acknowledge PRM’s strong support for this project and commitment to promoting long-term rights-based approaches as an integral aspect of humanitarian programming

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