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Back to Index of Laws Concerning Children of Undocumented Migrants

Summary

Turkey does not appear to have a program for undocumented child migrants similar to the US DACA program.  However, there are certain conditions under the country’s laws on citizenship and international protection that allow for citizenship or residency based on the particular status or best interest of a child.  While the government periodically threatens deportation of “irregular” migrants, such as undocumented Armenians, in general it seems to turn a blind eye to them and allows the existence of schools and hospitals that such migrants set up.

I. Turkish Laws on Citizenship

Under the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, anyone bound to the state through the bond of citizenship is a Turk.[1]  Turkey follows the principle of jus sanguinis; the child of a father or mother who is a Turkish citizen is also a Turkish citizen.[2]  The Constitution also asserts that citizenship can be acquired based on the conditions provided by law and forfeited only in cases determined by law.[3] 

The 2009 Citizenship Law provides that Turkish citizenship can be acquired by birth or after birth.[4]  Citizenship acquired by birth will be automatically acquired on the basis of descent or place of birth and will be effective from the moment of birth.[5]  A child born to a Turkish mother or a Turkish father in a marriage either in Turkey or abroad, or born to a Turkish mother and alien father out of wedlock, is a Turkish citizen.[6]  A child born to a Turkish father and an alien mother out of wedlock will acquire Turkish citizenship provided that the principles and procedures ensuring the establishment of descent are met.[7]  As for citizenship based on place of birth, a child who is born in Turkey and who has not acquired “the citizenship of any state by birth through his/her alien mother or father is a Turkish citizen from the moment of birth.”[8]  In addition, any child (defined as a person under the age of eighteen[9]) found in Turkey is deemed to have been born in Turkey unless otherwise proven.[10]  Citizenship may be acquired after birth either by a decision of the competent authority if certain conditions are met, by adoption, or by the right to choice of citizenship.[11] 

Under the 2013 Law on Foreigners and International Protection, a “foreigner” is defined as any person who does not have a citizenship bond with Turkey.[12]  The Law “provides for specific deportation procedures to ensure consistent and humane treatment for unauthorized migrants and other removable noncitizens, including “limiting detention in removal centers to six months (or up to a year in cases of noncooperation).”[13]  The Law lists among the persons who are subject to removal those who “breach the terms and conditions for legal entry into or exit from Turkey” and those determined to have entered Turkey despite an entry ban.[14]  However, persons exempted from a removal decision include those who would be at risk in case of travel “due to serious health condition, age, or pregnancy,” with assessment of the eligibility for exemption made on a case-by-case basis.[15]  Moreover, the Law provides for issuance of a humanitarian residence permit in cases, for example, “where the best interest of the child is of concern,” where removal is “not reasonable or possible,” and when “extraordinary circumstances exist.”[16]  The permit is granted upon approval of the Ministry of Interior for a maximum period of one year and is renewable by the relevant governorate “without seeking the conditions for other types of residence permits.”[17]  The Law also contains provisions to protect stateless persons.[18]

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II.  Treatment of Irregular Migrants

A.  Terminology

The Law on Foreigners and International Protection uses the terms “regular migration” and “irregular migration” (düzensiz göç) to distinguish entry into, stays in, or exits from the country through legal versus illegal channels.[19]  The Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM)[20] defines “irregular migration” more specifically as

entry into or stay in the country through illegal channels or entry into the country legally but not leaving the country within the period granted them to leave.  Irregular migration should be assessed separately for destination, transit and origin country.

For the countries of destination, irregular migration includes the persons who enter into the country illegally or who enter the country legally but do not leave the country within the period granted them to leave while for the countries of origin, it includes the persons who cross the border of the country without complying with the necessary obligation for leaving her/his country.  For the countries of transit, it includes the persons who enter the country legally or illegally in order to arrive in the country of destination from the country of origin and use this country as a transit country and leave its border.[21]

An “irregular migrant” (düzensiz göçmen) is defined in a Turkish-language Glossary of Migration Terms as “[a] person who lacks legal status in the transit or host country due to illegal entry or expiration of the visa.”[22]

B.  Practice

Turkey does not appear to have an official program similar to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program of the United States, but in reality the children of irregular migrants are generally allowed to stay in the country.

According to a 2015 news report, the Turkish government allows citizens of its neighboring Asian countries to enter Turkey freely, with the result that citizens of those countries, “such as Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Armenia come to Turkey to make a better living, entering without visas or on tourist visas and then overstaying those visas.”[23]  While some Armenians have stayed in Turkey for many years, “others are new arrivals.  Their exact numbers are unclear, as the bulk of them are undocumented.”[24]  Yasar Yakis, former Foreign Minister, estimated there were 70,000 undocumented Armenians in Turkey in 2006.[25]  Reuters reported in 2016 that between 10,000 to 30,000 undocumented Armenians lived in Istanbul, numbers “dwarfed by the 3 million Syrians and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have fled war” and arrived in Turkey.[26]

It appears that these irregular migrants are generally tolerated; thus, a de facto hidden Armenian secondary school set up in 2008, with the diploma it provides recognized in Armenia, continued to grow with the influx of more immigrants from Armenia over time.[27]  The school’s students cannot officially enroll in Turkey’s minority schools in Turkey; “[t]hey can only be guest students and receive an education without getting a diploma at the end of their studies.”[28] Although Turkish authorities know about the school, they reportedly tolerate it, and “Turkey’s Directorate General of Foundation . . . even provided food supplies to the school, although the textbooks are brought from Armenia.”[29]  Periodically, however, the government issues threats of deportation; for example, on April 15, 2015, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that “Turkey retained the right to deport the estimated 100,000 non-Turkish Armenian nationals working in Turkey.”[30]

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III.  Syrian Refugees under Temporary Protection

Syrian refugees in Turkey are handled in accordance with the Law on Foreigners and International Protection and other measures, such as a by-law of January 15, 2016, allowing Syrians under temporary protection access to the labor market, and the Turkey-European Union Action Plan on Migration, under which the EU committed to the allocation of €3 billion (about US$3.6 billion) “to be used for the urgent needs of Syrians in Turkey, such as education and health.”  The EU has pledged to allocate an additional €3 billion by 2018.[31]

Of the Syrians in Turkey needing special protection, more than three-quarters are children and women; 44% are children under the age of eighteen, and 12% of those with temporary protection status as of July 2017 were age four and under.[32]  Reportedly, “[b]etween May 2011 and May 2017, more than 224,000 babies were born in Turkey to displaced Syrians.  For the time being, most of these children are stateless, as they are neither granted Turkish nor Syrian citizenship at birth.”[33]  Because the prospects for the refugees’ return to Syria are bleak for the near future, education of the children is a major concern; of more than 967,000 school-aged Syrian children in Turkey, “492,000 (50.8 percent) are receiving education, despite the language barrier and limited capacity of schools,” a number “expected to reach 650,000 (65 percent) in the 2017–18 academic year.”[34]  However, “60 percent of these students are being taught in Arabic, under a Syrian curriculum, in ‘temporary education centers,’” with the education of questionable quality and “not optimal for the integration of students into Turkish society.”[35]

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Prepared by Wendy Zeldin
Senior Legal Research Analyst
September 2017


[1] Constitution of the Republic of Turkey (as last amended Mar. 17, 2011, by Act No. 6214), art. 66(1), http://global.tbmm.gov.tr/docs/constitution_en.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/PUM7-NG28.

[2] Id. art. 66(2).

[3] Id. art. 66(3).

[4] Türk Vatandaşlığı Kanunu [Turkish Citizenship Law], No. 5901, May 29, 2009, as last amended effective Jan. 6, 2017), art. 5, Resmî Gazete [Official Gazette], No. 27256 (June 12, 2009), http://www.mevzuat.gov.tr/ MevzuatMetin/1.5.5901.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/RJ4E-4AUW, English translation available at http://eudo-citizenship.eu/NationalDB/ docs/TUR%20Turkish%20citizenship%20law%202009%20%28English%29.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/PPS4 -BM3B.  For the Law’s implementation regulations, see Türk Vatandaşliği Kanunun Uygulanmasina İlişkin Yönetmelik [Implementation Regulation of the Law on Turkish Citizenship], 2010/139, Resmî Gazete, No. 27554 (Apr. 6, 2010), http://www.resmigazete.gov.tr/eskiler/ 2010/04/20100406-9.htm, archived at https://perma.cc/JN3T-SMQE

[5] Turkish Citizenship Law art. 6(1).

[6] Id. art. 7(1) & (2).

[7] Id. art. 7(3).

[8] Id. art. 8(1).

[9] Yabancılar ve Uluslararası Koruma Kanunu [Law on Foreigners and International Protection], No. 6458, Apr. 4, 2013 (in force Apr. 11, 2014, as last amended effective Aug. 25, 2017), art. 3(1)(e), http://www.mevzuat.gov. tr/MevzuatMetin/1.5.6458.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/Z823-FKUZ, unofficial English translation available on the website of the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Interior Directorate General of Migration Management, at http://www.goc.gov. tr/files/files/eng_minikanun_5_son.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/9VPV-GWYZ.

[10] Turkish Citizenship Law art. 8(2).

[11] Id. art. 9(1).  The Law points out, however, that “fulfilment of the stipulated conditions does not grant that person an absolute right in the acquisition of citizenship.”  Id. art. 10(1).

[12] Law on Foreigners and International Protection art. 3(1)(ü).

[13] Rebecca Kilberg, Turkey’s Evolving Migration Identity, Migration Policy Institute (July 24, 2014), http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/turkeys-evolving-migration-identity, archived at https://perma.cc/L4VA-L954; Law on Foreigners and International Protection art. 57(3).

[14] Law on Foreigners and International Protection art. 54(1)(h) & (ı).

[15] Id. art. 55(1)(b) & (2).

[16] Id. art. 46(1)(a), (b) & (f).

[17] Id. art. 46(1).  Foreigners who have been granted the permit must register with the address-based registration system within twenty working days of the permit issuance date.  Id. art. 46(2).

[18] Id. arts. 50 & 51.

[19] Id. art. 3(1)(ı).

[20] The DGMM is responsible for developing migration-related legislation and strategies; coordinating efforts to combat irregular migration; standardizing migration practices; registering and determining potential refugees’ status; and ensuring protection for human trafficking victims, stateless persons, and recipients of temporary protection.  Kilberg, supra note 13; Law on Foreign and International Protection arts. 103–104.

[21] Irregular Migration: General Information, Directorate General of Migration Management of the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Turkey, http://www.goc.gov.tr/icerik6/general-information_ 917_1062_8874_icerik (last visited Sept. 13, 2017), archived at https://perma.cc/LV47-R4ZQ.   

[22] Göç Terimleri Sözlüğü [Glossary of Migration Terms], No. 18 (IOM, 2009), http://www.goc.gov. tr/files/files/goc_terimleri_sozlugu.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/J9V5-QQ56.

[23] Umut Uras, Armenian Immigrants Look for a Better Life in Turkey, Al Jazeera (Apr. 20, 2015), http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/04/armenian-immigrants-life-turkey-150420070803126.html, archived at https://perma.cc/4G52-JQ83.   

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Ayla Jean Yackley, Armenian Migrants in Turkey Live in Shadow of Century-Old Massacre, Reuters (Apr. 24, 2016), http://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-armenia/armenian-migrants-in-turkey-live-in-shadow-of-century-old-massacre-idUSKCN0XL059.

[27] Uras, supra note 23.

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

[30] Id.

[31] Implementation of Turkey-EU Agreement of 18 March 2016, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, http://www.mfa.gov.tr/implementation-of-turkey_eu-agreement-of-18-march-2016.en.mfa, archived at https://perma.cc/A4XF-BUEE.

[32] M. Murat Erdoğan, Thinking Outside the Camp: Syrian Refugees in Istanbul, Migration Policy Institute (Aug. 9, 2017), http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/thinking-outside-camp-syrian-refugees-istanbul, archived at https://perma.cc/XED4-33EQ.

[33] Id.

[34] Id.

[35] Id.  The author adds that “more than 450,000 children have not been in a classroom since 2011, potentially representing a lost generation.”  Id.