Report by the Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation for submission to the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families 35th session for the adoption of the list of issues for the second periodic report of Türkiye.
Our submission may be posted on the webpage of CMW for public information purposes.
Information about Mor Çatı
Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation is an independent feminist organization that has been active in the field of combating violence against women since 1990. To date, over 40,000 women and children have received support from the solidarity center, more than 1000 women and children stayed in the shelter of Mor Çatı. An average of 15 women are assisted every day on the phone, via email and in person. Every woman who calls is provided social support and they may also obtain legal, psychological and shelter supports if they so require. Mor Çatı runs the only independent women’s shelter in Turkey with a capacity of 25 women and children. We provide support not only to the Turkish citizen women but women from several countries, both documented and undocumented. Here is our website in English if you need further information: https://en.morcati.org.tr/
Current situation in Turkey
Turkey currently hosts the largest number of refugees in the world. There are approximately 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees and around 320,000 refugees from other nationalities live in Turkey. The first asylum law in Turkey, the Law on the Foreigners and International Protection, came into force in 2013; yet, the social support systems, which are already inadequate in Turkey, have not reached the required capacity to meet the demand with the increasing number of refugees. In the current asylum law, there is no regulation specifically in regards to the needs of women in general and more specifically women who experience male violence. The deficiencies in mechanisms to combat violence against women in Turkey negatively affect migrant and refugee women as well. Although the existing laws regarding violence against women emphasize that the support services are not restricted to the Turkish citizens, in practice, our experiences show that immigrant and refugee women who try to escape from male violence cannot access to the services in an equal manner. Even though Istanbul Convention establishes the obligation to ensure that victims of violence against women who are in need of protection, regardless of their status or residence, are not returned to any country where their life would be at risk, since Turkey’s withdrawal from the Convention immigrant and refugee women lack this assurance.
Effective protection by the State and measures taken to combat abuse of migrant women
Despite the State Party’s responsibility to undertake the Convention without distinction of any kind and to guarantee non-discrimination, both in law and in practice (and the State Party is requested information by the Committee regarding this responsibility in the prior monitoring period in 2014), there is a growing discrepancy between existing laws on VAW and implementation in Turkey for refugee and immigrant women that is a result of a prevalent discrimination in support mechanisms. Discrimination in shelter admittance, lack of socio-economic supports and language barrier are the main problems for refugee and migrant women who try to escape from male violence. There are no effective measures taken to combat abuse and exploitation of migrant women. The protection by the state against violence, as it is guaranteed by the State Party in Article 16, is not granted to the immigrant and refugee women; and they cannot equally access social and health services, as it is guaranteed in article 45, that would empower them to get away from violence.
Based on the experiences of women who apply to Mor Çatı, we observe that women are misinformed by the relevant authorities and therefore, cannot access their rights. Immigrant and refugee women are denied their rights on the grounds that they are not citizens (even though the law does not require them to be a citizen). There is a prevalent tendency to ignore women’s statements and her application, to give false information and to blame the woman. Due to misinformation, many immigrant and refugee women fear that if they file a complaint, they will be deported or their right to settle in a third country will be taken away, and for that reason they abstain from reporting male violence.
The language barrier makes it difficult for women to report an official complaint and to take the necessary legal action against male violence. Although women have the right to have an interpreter, they are not informed or allowed to use this right. It is also seen that immigrant and refugee women are asked for money for support services that are completely free (including translation services).
Regarding equal access to the public shelters, there are barriers in admitting women without an identity card. The registered women are forced to apply for a shelter in their place of residence, where the threat of male violence is highest. Women either do not apply to the support services at all or the barriers at the support services cause them to live in danger by going back to the violent environment to live with the perpetrator. If a refugee woman isn’t exposed to physical violence, or doesn’t have any evidence of violence, or doesn’t want to file an official complaint about the perpetrator or was exposed to violence a while ago, she is not admitted to the public shelters. Violence Prevention and Monitoring Centers (ŞÖNİM) where women apply to seek refuge in a shelter do not refer to any other alternatives for women and children whom they don’t accept.
Women state that they often hear statements such as “return to your country” from people who are supposed to provide support to them. If the perpetrator is a male from Turkey, the discrimination against immigrant and refugee women aggravates. Similarly, there is a prevalent discrimination against LBTI+s.
Women also face discrimination as they access their rights to health due to language barrier, discriminative approaches, complex bureaucratic procedures for reaching health services and lack of mechanism for non-registered immigrants/refugees.
Poverty is another factor that prevents immigrant and refugee women from escaping male violence. Women in need of aid find it necessary to apply to institutions for their basic needs. The social benefits are inadequate; and considering prevalent discriminatory atmosphere, it is legally and practically very difficult for immigrant and refugee women to find a job, which makes it impossible for women to establish a sustainable life away from violence. The women who find jobs are exposed to intense exploitation. In the face of poverty and lack of resources, women find it more difficult to stay away from violence.
Cultural relativism as a barrier in the fight against VAW
The normalization of some forms of violence against immigrant and refugee women and girls with the bias that it is a “cultural” phenomenon is another challenge. It poses an obstacle to the awareness-raising and empowering activities necessary for women to escape from violence. We observe that women do not even apply to support services regarding any form of violence other than physical violence and the types of violence other than physical violence are normalized. Besides, even if the services that provide support to these women detect these forms of violence other than physical violence they do not work on them together with the women. Lastly, we observe that child or early-age marriage is also accepted as a cultural practice, and the marriage of children over the age of 15 is often overlooked by the relevant authorities.
Lack of gender-based approach among humanitarian aid organizations
The support services for refugee women are not public and they are mainly provided by the humanitarian aid organizations who do not have a comprehensive knowledge on gender inequality and gender-based violence which makes it more difficult for refugee women to get away from violence. Since most of these organizations have with a social-aid focus, the necessary in-depth social work is not carried out in the fight against violence against women; and even if male violence is detected, the necessary resources for women to stay away from violence are often not provided. The fact that the resources of these organizations are used by a strict bureaucracy under the supervision of donors hinders the provision of the necessary urgency in the fight against violence against women.
The frequent changes in the practices and legislation
The frequent changes in the practices and legislation in the field of migration in Turkey are also one of the factors that make it difficult to work. Experts providing support in the field have to make an effort to reach the most up-to-date information, which delays the necessary intervention. Working with migrant and refugee women requires more time and resources due to all these difficulties. When state institutions do not provide these resources, it becomes difficult for women to escape from male violence.
 Turkey is a party to The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) signed in Geneva. According to this Convention, immigrants from outside of Europe are not accepted as refugees. However, regardless of their legal status, the term refugee is used in this shadow report to highlight that women who have been displaced from Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and other countries and took refuge in Turkey also have rights under international law.