The Christian and Yazidi asylum seekers who have fled Syria and Iraq after the brutal invasions and massacres of the Islamic State are now suffering in Turkey as well, due to discrimination, poverty, and other pressures.
Many Western NGOs and churches have turned a blind eye to the plight of Christian and Yazidi asylum-seekers in the Middle East, though some are doing their best to help them. Hatune Dogan, founder of Hatune Foundation International, aims to help refugees, asylum seekers, and persecuted religious minorities across the world. Dogan, a Christian nun, was born in Turkey but now lives in Germany:
Yazidis and Christians from Syria and Iraq arrived in Turkey penniless. And they are still persecuted in Turkey because they belong to a non-Muslim faith.
I was 14 when I left Turkey and arrived in Germany with my family in 1984 as refugees. Thank God we all have had good lives here, therefore I feel that I owe my people, my Christian brothers and sisters, to help them as much as I can.
Sister Hatune has been in contact with Christians living in Turkey, and during the last three years she has visited the few spots in the country that accommodate Yazidis and Christians from war-torn Iraq and Syria:
Christians and Yazidi asylum seekers in Turkey have no rights and the local people, Muslims, do not care much for them.
Some Christian and Yazidi asylum-seekers are living in camps funded by the government or by the Kurdish municipalities. Those who live outside are forced to pay for their own livelihood. They have to pay rent and for all the necessities of life while struggling with economic and social difficulties.
The situation is not much better within the camps. Sister Hatune says that for non-Muslims, life in government-funded camps is “like prison”:
Asylum seekers living in the camps, too, often experience their situation like they are imprisoned. Therefore, many make the choice, themselves, to search for a living outside the camps.
They are really suffering, because the local people use the desperate situation in the housing market to charge unreasonable amounts for vacant apartments — and the asylum seekers never know if or when they can achieve help, and from who.
For Yazidis, the situation is even worse:
Christians in Turkey are under great pressure because of their religion. For minorities like Yazidis it is even worse. They hold the lowest rank in the Muslim view; they are seen as “devil worshippers.”
On August 3, 2014, the Islamic State conducted a massive assault on the Yazidi community in northern Iraq, invading the region of Sinjar, home to 360,000 Yazidis, and a part of the Nineveh plain, home to 200,000 Yazidis. The invasion led to the abduction, rape, and sexual slavery of Yazidi women and massacres that killed at least 5,000 Yazidi civilians.
The invasion has been deemed a genocide by the U.S. government, the European Parliament, and United Nations investigators. However, Yazidi asylum-seekers from Iraq who stay outside of government-funded camps in Turkey have not been given legal status – they are not considered either “refugees” or “persons benefiting from temporary protection.”
Said Sertac Okay, a member of the Health Assembly of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Congress (DTK):
Iraqi Yazidis in Turkey are faced with grave problems. And the greatest problem is health issues. Many seriously ill Yazidi patients staying at the camps have not been admitted to hospitals although they have chronic, life-threatening diseases such as cancer, cardiac disease, diabetes, and asthma.
The Diyarbakir Bar Association issued a report early this year about Yazidis, stating:
The Yazidis that ran away from the IS massacres in Shingal are exposed to discrimination in Turkey.
We have learned that according to the circular note the Ministry of Health sent to hospitals, those who come from Syria are treated for free in line with the patient transferal system, whereas Yazidis from Shingal are to be treated for money.
Said Muhip Ege Caglidil, an immigration expert researching Yazidis:
Newborn babies are the ones that suffer the most due to a lack of legal status as they don’t have legal documents and cannot be taken to hospitals when they become seriously ill.
Victims of rapes are also suffering greatly. Some of those who did not have access to hospitals had to abort their babies with their own techniques. And those who had to give birth have difficulty taking care of their babies. They are so deeply traumatized.
The Christian and Yazidi asylum seekers in Turkey are largely dependent on the help they are provided by NGOs and churches. Said Hatune Dogan:
There are some NGOs — like our Hatune Foundation — and churches from outside, who distribute food, clothes and other necessities to the asylum seekers. Without this help they would starve. But it is not enough. The UNHCR, now operated by local staffs, claim they have run out of both money and possibilities for resettlement.
The Hatune Foundation also tries to bring the Christian and Yazidi asylum seekers to Europe:
We have, during this period, succeeded to bring several asylum seekers to safety in Europe. However, in the last year it has been very difficult. Sometimes it seems like Europe has been turned into another Fort Knox.
Although the doors of the West seem to be closed to many of them, the number of persecuted Christians is increasing rapidly. The Open Doors Organization reported the following this year:
[T]he persecution of Christians has increased across every region in which Open Doors works. And never before have so many Christians been on the move.
[T]he main engine of persecution is Islamic extremism, [which aims to] bring the country/world under the ‘House of Islam’ through violent/non-violent actions.
Sister Hatune stressed that she cannot understand why Western governments have taken in so many Muslim immigrants from the Middle East but have excluded their Christian and Yazidi victims:
I just wonder how it can be that Muslim immigrants seem to have much broader options to get out of the Middle East to Europe than people from other faiths. But of course, that is a very politically incorrect question.
Christians and Yazidis, who have been oppressed and exterminated in majority-Muslim countries, desperately need to be cared for because they are the real victims of Islamic jihad and Islamic supremacism, added Sister Hatune:
It is not only the authorities that harass Christians and Yazidis in Turkey. It is their neighbors, it is in the schools, everywhere. You know that in a Muslim country, Muslims are more worthy than everybody else. Those who think otherwise do not know about living in a Muslim country.