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(Istanbul) – Turkey’s Human Rights Watch said today that an arbitrary decision to give refugees living in provinces affected by the February 6, 2023 earthquake only 60 days out of the region leaves many people with an uncertain future and unable to plan for their long-term needs.

Turkey should indefinitely suspend time restrictions on long-term settlement outside the region that apply to refugees registered as residents in the 10 affected provinces. They should be able to plan to rebuild their lives outside the area without the additional, arbitrary constraints that other earthquake victims should not face.

“The current 60-day limit for Syrian Refugees The time earthquake survivors spent outside the region leaves them in limbo, with many fearing they will be forced into inadequate housing arrangements in devastated provinces,” said Nadia Hardman, refugee and migrant rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The deadline is completely arbitrary, causing unnecessary and undue financial and psychological stress on refugees.”

Turkey’s Interior Minister on March 13 estimated that 48,448 people, including 6,660 foreigners, most of whom were Syrian refugees, died in the February 6 earthquake in Turkey. government officials too guess That a quarter of a million buildings have been damaged, and nearly two million people have been displaced from the earthquake zone. There is no official estimate available for the number of refugees among them.

Under normal circumstances Turkey imposes travel restrictions on refugees, preventing them from leaving the provinces where they are registered with local authorities, unless they obtain permits. On 7 February, the authorities lifted these restrictions temporarily for 90 days for the approximately 1.7 million refugees in the earthquake zone and under international protection, but then reduced the time period to just 60 days.

This means that those refugees can travel without a permit and find alternative accommodation elsewhere, but it leaves them unsure whether they will have to return to their home-ravaged provinces after the 60-day period, whether accommodation is available there. No matter what the possibilities are. Human Rights Watch said this prevents them from finding a long-term solution elsewhere.

Human Rights Watch spoke with 11 Syrian refugees who moved to Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, or Bursa to live with relatives after the earthquake. Most said they decided to leave after spending days amid aftershocks and freezing weather with little access to food or shelter.

After leaving the earthquake area, legally refugees must go to local migration offices to apply for a permit to live in their new location. People Human Rights Watch spoke to said it was difficult to focus on seeking permits and dealing with the bureaucratic system when they had lost family members, suffered serious injuries including amputations, were left homeless , and felt traumatized.

The permission to travel outside the provinces where they are registered is based on two circulars issued by the Presidency of Migration Management on February 7 and February 13. Province to travel without a permit to other provinces except Istanbul and stay outside their registered provinces for up to 90 days.

A second circular, on 13 February, replacing the announcement of 7 February, reduced the time period to 60 days and restricted travel to and from the five worst-affected provinces (Hatay, Malatya, Kahramanmaras, Adıyaman, and Gaziantep). Unconditional access was granted to other provinces. , but traveled from the other five (Kilis, Diyarbakır, Sanliurfa, Adana, and Osmaniye), depending on the applicant’s home being seriously damaged and the existence of medical needs that could only be met in other provinces.

People from the second group are not allowed into many areas of Turkey that are officially closed to new registration of refugees. Both circulars were sent to local non-governmental groups or civil society The leaders were not shared privately but on official websites or social media accounts of the concerned authorities. Human Rights Watch has seen copies of both.

People interviewed said officials at local migration management offices were unable to tell them what to expect in the coming weeks and months. Neither the official Presidency of Migration Management (pmm) Nor do the websites or social media accounts of the Ministry of the Interior provide any information. Interviewees said they found out about the 60-day permit through Syrian media outlets, WhatsApp groups, and social media platforms.

The people interviewed said that 60 days is not enough to plan their life. One woman said her family spent most of their savings to leave the province where they were registered.

A couple living in Hatay said they are still paying rent for their damaged unoccupied house and for a newly rented apartment in Istanbul because of the uncertainty about what to expect. Some Syrians whose homes were not damaged and were not evacuated said they are now at risk of eviction because Turkish landlords want to use the apartments for their relatives displaced by the quake.

In 2022, Turkey’s Interior Ministry introduced a policy to “reduce” the foreign population by designating 1,169 neighborhoods in 63 provinces as “closed” For fresh registration of refugees, including some from the 10 earthquake-ravaged provinces. The policy applies to places where the refugee population is believed to be more than 20 percent of the total population.

One man said that his relatives traveling through the earthquake zone could not rent houses in a gated neighborhood of Istanbul. On trying to rent in another locality, he was asked to pay six months’ rent in advance.

Human Rights Watch noted that damaged infrastructure, a lack of housing options, and uncertainty about their future make it difficult and costly for refugees to plan their lives and future moves.

“Refugees should be allowed to seek shelter in cities with functioning infrastructure and given time to recover until permanent housing and basic necessities are available in the affected cities,” Hardeman said.

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