In collaboration with the Union of Turkish Bar Associations [UTBA] and UNHCR, three legal clinics in Şanlıurfa, Gaziantep and Hatay work to deliver legal assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers.
“It is a huge relief to know that there are lawyers who are ready to help you,” says Aisha*, a Syrian mother who lives in Gaziantep with her son and her parents. “The support I received changed my life certainly for the better.” Aisha is one of the counselees of the legal clinics, run in collaboration with the Union of Turkish Bar Associations and UNHCR. There are three legal clinics that operate in Şanlıurfa, Gaziantep and Hatay that deliver legal assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers. The clinics provide refugees with free of charge legal counselling, support in drafting petitions and legal information regarding administrative and civil law, and rights within the scope of criminal litigation. In addition to providing legal assistance, these legal clinics also organize legal awareness sessions where lawyers inform refugees about their rights and obligations in Turkey and respond to questions on legal issues, including family law, protection mechanisms, labour law and right to legal aid. Also, full-time psychologists of the legal clinics provide psychosocial support for the wellbeing of counselees and their children, if needed.
Aisha and her family fled Syria and arrived in Turkey in 2013. Sometime after her arrival, she got married and welcomed the arrival of her son in the first years of the marriage. Following the birth, Aisha and her husband started to have marital problems which the two could not resolve. As a result, they decided to separate, and Aisha moved back to her parents’ house. “When I returned, I decided to get a divorce; however, neither did I know my rights nor the divorce and custody procedures in Turkey,” states Aisha. Upon the recommendation of her neighbours, she approached one of UNHCR’s partner organizations for support and was informed about the legal clinic in Gaziantep. “The lawyers helped me from the first moment on and provided me comprehensive legal counselling,” she adds. With the legal assistance received, Aisha was able to initiate legal procedures both for divorce and the settlement of custody. “Being informed about my rights and legal procedures is significant as it made me more independent and eventually more self-confident,” explains Aisha with joy.
Staff of Gaziantep Legal Clinic** ©UNHCR/ Can Eminoğlu
36-year-old Hasan* who fled Syria and arrived in Turkey in 2016 is a counselee of the Hatay Legal Clinic. When his disabled daughter’s financial assistance provided by the Government was cancelled in early 2020, Hasan decided to approach the Hatay Legal Clinic which he heard from a friend. “Upon my application, the lawyers provided me with clear information on legal methods of re-application for financial assistance. They also informed me about the other support mechanisms available for persons with disabilities that the government authorities and NGOs provide,” he tells. After he was provided with legal counselling, Hasan and his family members started to voluntarily attend the legal awareness sessions organized by the Hatay Legal Clinic to extend their knowledge about their rights and obligations in Turkey. Hasan also passed on the information regarding the legal clinic’s services to his friends and neighbours. “Being listened to by the people who are experts on law made me feel valued,” says Hasan. “I feel stronger now.”
Staff of Hatay Legal Clinic** ©UNHCR/ Can Eminoğlu
Access to justice is a fundamental right; and UNHCR will continue to support refugees’ access to justice and legal assistance in Turkey. Thank you, Germany, Norway and the United States for empowering refugees as rights holders and supporting legal awareness so that they lead their lives in dignity.
*Names have been changed to protect identity
**The photos were taken before COVID-19 situation in Turkey.