By Mark Brody, independent reporter, Switzerland-Istanbul, September 2012
In July 2012, Istanbul city authorities, acting on governmental instructions, have organized the relocation of more than 200 hundred Chechen refugee families from their temporary premises that they have been graciously allowed to occupy during the past 12 years since the re-start of the conflict with Russia. Residents from the camps of Fenerbahce, Umraniye, Beykoz, in Istanbul’s periphery, have been sent to the city of Körfez, 80 km south from Istanbul, in the remote and badly connected area of Ilimtepe. The Turkish state has provided large families with four-room flats whereas smaller ones or single person receive three-room ones. Refugees from the Yalova camp, which were gathering the Caucasus Emirate supporters and their families, mainly from Chechnya but also from Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardia-Balkaria, have obtained similar apartments in the far more dynamic city of Yalova.
During one year, according to the Turkish plan, every family is entitled to receive a monthly financial allocation of 500 YTL (new Turkish Lira), set to ensure their basic needs, such as the flat rent, charges for gas, water and electricity, as well as the food and clothes. It was rumoured that the amount could reach 700 YTL but the real figure seems rather 500, as the August allowance shows. That sum proves to be quite low for a family’s monthly expenses. Only taking into account the rent and the communal charges, it overcomes the subsidies. The refugees yet has not been allowed to work, as they are all still under the previous legal temporary one-year status. It has been said that the Yalova refugees have earned more, around 1000 YTL by person, but it has not been confirmed. Every refugee however can request and obtain quite easily Turkish citizenship.
There is a likely difference in Turkish authorities’ caring between the Yalova refugees and the others in Istanbul. It is not to say that Ankara has willingly favoured materially and directly one side against the other, but it may have let the Muslim Imkander association mobilising and affecting more substantial sum for the Yalova refugees. Already, before the move, that camp offered objectively far better life conditions than the three others, whereas five years ago, when settled, premises were insalubrious.
The main rational behind that Turkish organizational move, after 12 years, lies in the citizenship effort. Procedures’ simplification for the North Caucasian refugees induces them to apply. Becoming thus Turkish citizens, they have exactly the same rights and duties as their new fellows. They are now notably allowed to work and assure their life subsistence. Meanwhile, they lose their former, non-recognized, status of “refugee”. Turkey can so claim, dealing with Russia particularly, not to shelter anymore any North-Caucasian nationals who might have been hostile to its policy in the region. Ankara, with that quite cheap nationalisation operation, simply makes disappearing at his advantage the Chechen political issue.
It appears actually that due specifically to the financial Turkish organizational scheme, the refugees have not really other choice than to apply for citizenship. If they did not require it, if they refused to renounce to their refugee status, it becomes harder for them to survive financially. They would remain trapped into the refugees’ frame, being not allowed to work. Isolated too in their family flats, quite far from Istanbul, they hardly can benefit from generous humanitarian donations, as they did so far while being in the camps. Regularly there, good-willing neighbours brought food and clothes that the refugees were sharing. The whole relocation process is especially based on the Turkish citizenship offer, which will give those new Turks, from North-Caucasian origins, the opportunity to recover and rebuild their financial autonomy.