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The UK Home Office Deems Türkiye Unsafe

‌Rishi Sunak’s ambitions against illegal migration to the UK reached a screeching halt once more after the UK Home Office voiced concerns about whether Türkiye is a safe country for asylum seekers.

The UK’s English Channel Problem

With each passing year, the number of asylum seekers and immigrants risking their lives by illegally passing through the English Channel to reach the United Kingdom borders increases exponentially. As Channel crossings have repeatedly reached record highs ever since Brexit, Rishi Sunak and his party pledged to reclaim the country’s border integrity and regain control as to may enter. This pledge served to secure Sunak his seat as the prime minister. Since 2022, when Boris Johnson acted as the British PM, a controversial solution, the Rwanda asylum plan, has been on the table. The plan consisted of relocating illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda, where their asylum applications would be processed, and they would either be resettled there or be sent to neighboring countries. Either way, these refugees would be a continent away from the UK. The plan was shortly interrupted afterward, being branded as an “egregious breach of human rights” by the UN. With the UK’s attempts to outsource asylum being heavily condemned and Rwanda’s myriad of human rights abuses being brought to light, the plan was theatrically stopped by an interim injunction by the European Court of Human Rights. Court cases ensued with this intervention, emergency bills fell in vain, and Sunak had no choice but to consider alternative countries to strike a similar deal with.

Türkiye’s Relevance

Should the Rwanda plan fall, Türkiye had been named as an alternative next to countries like Eygpt. Just last year, 3,000 Turkish people landed in the UK via the English Channel, making them the third-largest nationality. In 2022, only 2% of asylum seekers were Turkish nationals, which spiked up to over 10%, a 162% increase. Moreover, the deal proposed to Türkiye was to mirror a similar asylum outsourcing deal made with Albania, which succeeded in achieving a drastic 90% plunge in illegal migration attempts, as proudly exclaimed by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Nevertheless, PM Sunak had to abandon plans once again when the Home Office defined Türkiye as “a state that does not meet the criteria of being ‘generally safe” due to non-compliance with ECHR policies and vented concerns about Türkiye’s “over-zealous” use of anti-terrorism laws and lack of court integrity. Home Office professed that “no one who is found to be at risk of persecution or serious harm will be returned [to their country of origin].” The ministry’s decision to intervene in the deal can be traced back to the sudden surge of Turkish asylum seekers, around 99% of whom were reported to have fled under the fear of political persecution.

The Gülen Movement

The Gülen movement is an Islamist fraternal movement led by Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim scholar and preacher who has been living in the United States since 1999. In 2016, the movement was designated by the Turkish government as a terrorist organization under the name FETÖ (Fethullatist Terror Organization). Within the same year, Türkiye experienced a coup attempt that was attributed to the movement. Subsequently, a massive crackdown was conducted by the government on people and organizations allegedly connected to the Gülen movement, which has resulted in thousands of arrests and detentions as well as over 117,000 of terrorism. Similar proceedings have also been conducted on individuals who were alleged to have been members of PKK, a Kurdish separatist guerilla movement that is recognized as a terrorist organization by Türkiye, the United States, the EU, and several others.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has faced numerous accusations from the opposition of branding his political rivals as members of terrorist organizations and exploiting anti-terrorism laws.

The Backlash

Despite the exploitation allegations within Türkiye, the Home Office has been called out by UK officials for declaring a NATO ally to be unsafe. With the county sitting between the progressively right-leaning Europe and the war-torn Middle East, Türkiye was regarded as an ally to the UK in subsiding the migrant influx. In August 2022, the UK and Türkiye had entered into an intelligence-sharing agreement aimed at enhancing collaboration in addressing the migrant crisis.

In light of the UK’s positive diplomatic relations with Türkiye, Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman exclaimed that she had “worked up proposals to list [Türkiye] as a safe country: a member of the Council of Europe, a NATO ally and a Candidate country for EU accession. The government should re-think this decision.”

Türkiye is already the world’s leading refugee-hosting country, housing approximately 4 million registered asylum seekers. With the real number of refugees being estimated to be higher, how ethical is it for countries to engage in a population-wide pass parcel with non-first-world allies that are going through their own refugee crises?

Works Cited

“Rishi Sunak’s Small Boats Plan Suffers Blow as Home Office Deems Turkey Unsafe.” The Independent, 3 Feb. 2024.

‌Hoffman, Noa. “Llegal Migrant Deal with Turkey Collapses after Home Office Deems Nato Member State ‘Unsafe’...” The Sun, The Sun, 2 Feb. 2024.

‌“Country Policy and Information Note: Gülenist Movement, Turkey, October 2023 (Accessible).” GOV.UK, 2023.

‌Walters, Jack. “Rishi Sunak Suffers Major Blow as Plan to Return Migrants to Turkey Collapses.” GB News, GB News, 2 Feb. 2024.

‌Staff Reporter. “What Is FETO?”, TRT WORLD, 10 July 2017.

‌“Foreign Terrorist Organizations - United States Department of State.” United States Department of State, 19 Dec. 2023.

‌Umut Uras. “Rising Anti-Refugee Sentiment Leads to Debate in Turkey.” Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 27 July 2022.


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