31 December 2013 |

Turkey: Internal displacement in brief

As of December 2013


There were estimated to be more than 954,000 IDPs in Turkey as of the end of 2013. Most fled their homes between 1986 and 1995 during the armed conflict between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the security forces in the south-east of the country. Displacement was also due to village raids and forced evacuations in the same area and around the same period by the authorities.

A ceasefire announced in March between the government and the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, marked a turning point in the history of the 30-year conflict and was maintained throughout the year. Peace talks, however, appeared to have stalled, despite clear engagement from state officials and institutions on Kurdish issues.

Turkey’s internal displacement figures are outdated and disputed. Commissioned by the government in 2006, Hacettepe University in Ankara found that between 954,000 and 1.2 million people were forced to flee their homes between 1986 and 2005, the vast majority of them Kurdish. The results of the only survey of its kind have yet to be fully endorsed by the government, which previously put the number of IDPs at 378,000. NGOs have reported between one and three million.

Most IDPs have been left to fend for themselves. Two decades after their displacement, around half were still living in cities close to their places of origin such as Batman, Diyarbakir, Hakkari and Van. The remainder live mainly in urban areas of western and northern Turkey. Many lived in substandard, illegally built housing and are at risk of eviction.

Many IDPs benefitted from a green card system that provided free health care to the poorest members of the population, but a lack of broader government support has hampered their local integration. Poverty has forced IDPs’ children to work rather than going to school, and some women have resorted to negative coping mechanisms including prostitution to get by.

The government had taken steps to assist IDPs’ return, including a 1994 village rehabilitation project, a 2004 law on compensation for victims of the conflict and a 2006 action plan for Van province. It also continued to pay compensation for losses during the conflict in 2013. More than 364,000 applications have been submitted, around 331,000 processed and more than 175,000 applicants have received payouts. As of 2009, around 187,000 IDPs had returned. No more recent figures are available.

The extent of the government’s commitment to durable solutions is unclear. Originally planned for adoption in 2010, its national action plan on displacement and return plans for 13 provinces have still not been finalised. Conditions in return areas were not conducive, given a lack of basic infrastructure and capital, limited job opportunities, the presence of landmines and the continuing paramilitary village guard system. Internal displacement became even less of a priority in 2013 with the arrival of as many as 500,000 refugees from Syria.

A justice-based approach is also needed if durable solutions are to be achieved. The European Court of Human Rights ruled on various cases in 2013, ordering Turkey to pay compensation to IDPs who suffered the disappearance, torture and death of relatives during the 1990s. The country’s fourth judicial reform package became law in April, and offers the prospect of holding officials accountable for alleged torture in the 1980s and 1990s. Victims’ families, however, still have no information about the whereabouts of their loved ones.

After more than three years on ice, Turkey’s EU accession negotiations were revived in 2013. The European Commission’s annual report on progress in meeting accession criteria concluded that there were no major improvements for IDPs during the year, and that a national action plan was needed to resolve the displacement situation. It acknowledged, however, that government had taken steps to address discrimination against Kurds.

UNDP was the main interlocutor with the government on IDPs, but there was no information on international assistance for them. An improved response would entail identifying IDPs’ needs and expediting their inclusion in humanitarian, development and peace building programmes.