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Fleeing Turkey

Interview: Nina Niebergall / js
August 5, 2016

Media reports say more Turkish citizens are fleeing to Germany - especially Kurds. Asylum attorney Heiko Habbe thinks the German government is partially responsible for the situation.

Migrants arriving in Munich
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Hoppe

DW: Mr. Habbe, asylum requests from Turkey are on the rise according to the German newspaper "Tagesspiegel," which cited recent statistics from the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). These state that last year 1,719 Turkish citizens applied for asylum, and in the first six months of this year there have already been 1,767 requests. Why is that?

Heiko Habbe: Firstly, that is not a worrying development - in light of the overall number of 800,000 asylum requests last year, and 200,000 the year before. But of course there is concern that the trend has to do with political developments within Turkey: From the resurgence of the Kurdish conflict, which - as far as one can tell - is being intentionally stoked by the Turkish government, to the mass incarcerations that have been taking place in the wake of the recent failed coup attempt.

BAMF cannot yet say what effect July's attempted coup will have on asylum requests. When will the current situation be reflected in those numbers?

That is hard to say. What concerns us is that Turkey will once again become an important country of origin. After having disappeared from BAMF statistics for decades, it was suddenly among the top 15 countries of origin in the first quarter of this year.

Heiko Habbe
Image: privat

We are talking about a country that is supposedly a candidate for EU membership. One must ask: Have the EU and Germany's government failed to push Turkey to improve its human rights situation?

Despite the tense situation in southeastern Turkey, recognition rates for asylum requests have gone down dramatically. BAMF spoke of acceptance rates of 5.2 percent for Kurdish Turks in the Tagesspiegel article. Last year that rate was 14.7. How do explain that?

I cannot confirm that the numbers have gone down, because numbers of recognized requests from Turkey over the last several years have never been published. In the first quarter of 2016 the overall adjusted protection rate for asylum seekers from Turkey was still at 14.5 percent.

Turkish military offensive against Kurdish rebels
Southeastern Turkey is the focus of the conflict between the military and PKK rebelsImage: picture-alliance/AA/abaca

Even if one assumes an acceptance rate of nearly 15 percent, deportation numbers remain relatively high. Is the situation in Turkey thus that Kurds no longer need protection from other countries?

Turkey's domestic situation is complex. However, one particular argument put forth by BAMF has often been criticized. In the past they have repeatedly claimed: A Kurdish asylum seeker may be directly affected by the conflict in the southeast, but that is a regional issue. Kurds can live in total safety in Istanbul; therefore they need no protection from Germany.

Affected persons argued to the contrary. They reported that they were discriminated against and attacked in other parts of the country as well.

How are such situational reports - which provide the basis for deciding which people, fleeing from which countries, will get protection in Germany - put together?

BAMF and the administrative courts rely mainly on situational reports from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is not a source that is beyond dispute. The reports are very detailed, but they reflect the view of the ministry, which at times seems influenced by diplomatic considerations.

If you read reports from Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch you are immediately confronted with much more troubling assessments. But BAMF does not vigorously consult these.

Are you criticizing that?

Let's just say it is no coincidence that a large number of asylum requests rejected by BAMF are later overturned in the courts.

Can German authorities generally react quickly enough to changing political situations - say, a failed coup attempt?

Reactions do not tend to come quickly. Naturally one has to wait and see how a given situation develops, and facts have to be collected for new reports. In the past, BAMF would temporarily suspend proceedings when political situations changed very quickly. That was the case in the 1990s, for instance, when the Taliban began rapidly gaining influence in Afghanistan. At the time one wanted to wait and see whether a new state order would evolve.

What does that then mean for asylum seekers?

Requests are shelved for months or more. People live in uncertainty and have no idea if they will be granted asylum. It is extremely burdensome.

Heiko Habbe is a lawyer specialized in asylum, residency and anti-discrimination law.

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