Are refugees in Turkey vaccinated?

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The vaccination campaign is underway in Turkey, but migrants face a particularly large number of challenges on the path to vaccination. The government has kept a low profile on the issue.

The battle to contain the coronavirus pandemic in Turkey has already seen more than 57.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered to date. More than 37.7 million people have received their first doses and 20% of the country’s 84.3 million people have been fully immunized, according to official figures released Sunday, July 11. Migrants and refugees, who number more than three million in Turkey, are officially entitled to the same health services as all other citizens, including access to vaccinations.

But in practice, countless challenges mean migrants and refugees have limited access to COVID vaccines. SG * is a beneficiary of international protection. She earns a living as an interpreter, mainly for courts and hospitals. Migrant who arrived in Turkey from Iran seven years ago, said SG InfoMigrants that the language barrier creates a significant challenge for many migrants and refugees.

Refugees lose out because of language barriers

“There are those who don’t have a telephone, no Internet access, or don’t even know how to read or write,” says SG. “The appointment scheduling program is in a language they don’t know. At the hospital, the form is only provided in Turkish. Many people are reluctant to go to a hospital because of legal issues or previous experiences of discrimination.

“In particular, people with chronic illnesses and refugees over the age of 65 feel the need to be vaccinated. Among young migrants, uncertainty often reigns, for a variety of reasons. Some do not want to be vaccinated until they are in a third country where they intend to migrate to, ”says SG.

Syrian journalist Fars Khatab, in Turkey | Photo: Çiçek Tahaoglu

Fars Khatab, a migrant who has lived in Turkey for three years, says he and his wife will be vaccinated as soon as it is their turn. Khatab is 30 years old and works as a journalist. He is also continuing his studies at Istanbul University – in 2011 his studies were interrupted by the events in Syria.

Khatab also confirms that many refugees have language issues as the reservation system is not in Arabic. “And this despite the fact that today in Turkey there are Syrian TV channels broadcasting in our language,” he said.

In some cases, vaccination simply does not take place due to lack of information and ignorance. This is the case of Hasne Elyasi, a young Syrian who arrived in Turkey nine years ago, when she was only 11 years old. Today, she lives in slums, sharing accommodation with 13 other people in Balat, a suburb of Istanbul’s Golden Horn. She only found out by talking to InfoMigrantsjournalist that she had the right to be vaccinated.

Elyasi’s mother, Sabha, is 43 years old. According to the vaccine prioritization rules, she is now eligible, but she does not want to be vaccinated. “They tested me and it showed that I wasn’t sick. So I didn’t need to be vaccinated either,” she explains. Every day, Hasne tries to persuade his mother that it is important to get the vaccine.

girl Hasni Elyasi (red dress) and her family in Turkey |  Photo: Çiçek Tahaoglu
girl Hasni Elyasi (red dress) and her family in Turkey | Photo: Çiçek Tahaoglu

Yasin: The refusal of the vaccine, a major problem

Health expert Yesim Yasin points out that uncertainty surrounding vaccination is common among migrants and refugees. But she says the same problem affects the general population in Turkey and even the rest of the world. She notes that “vaccine refusal” would be among the 10 toughest global health challenges for the World Health Organization.

Yasin says Turkey has offered exemplary and equal access to people with temporary protection status. “However, the problem is that there is not enough education. Also, vaccinations are only done in hospitals. And the reservation systems there are currently not in Arabic.” , she explains. She recommends that vaccinations be carried out by the Migrant Health Center as it also offers services in several languages, including Arabic.

Health expert Yeşim Yasin says mistrust of vaccination is common among migrants and refugees in Turkey |  Photo: Çiçek Tahaoglu
Health expert Yeşim Yasin says mistrust of vaccination is common among migrants and refugees in Turkey | Photo: Çiçek Tahaoglu

“Since the start of the pandemic, public institutions as well as non-governmental organizations have published explanatory brochures and videos on social networks in different languages. But not everyone has access to the Internet. Migrants and refugees are already disadvantaged when it comes to health services. So, for them, planning should be more complex.

Unregistered migrants are still not vaccinated

There is little information on whether unregistered refugees should be vaccinated in Turkey. In April 2020, the presidential office decided that everyone should have free access to health services. But the reality is different. Migrants who are “illegally” in Turkey – those who are not registered with the authorities – have virtually no chance of accessing coronavirus-related services.

Yasin believes one of the problems is that medical staff in hospitals are required to report unregistered migrants. “Despite the presidential ruling, the mandatory reporting requirement has not been lifted. So I don’t think migrants will end up taking advantage of these services because they are actually scared.”

There’s another problem, SG says: Many refugees who have been treated in hospital for coronavirus infection have reportedly been sent large bills that they are often unable to pay. “This has happened to us several times. They forced someone I know to sign a loan agreement, and today he still has to pay his 33,000 Turkish lira bill at the hospital.”

Many migrants fail to obtain an HES code, adds SG. The code allows the Turkish Ministry of Health to trace contacts in Turkey. Due to the pandemic, the code must be produced on demand, for example on public transport.

“Unregistered people and refugees with protection status often find it difficult to obtain a HES code. There were people who appeared, who sold the code to the refugees for ten lire. It’s actually illegal, ”says SG.

Syrian refugees in Turkey can officially be vaccinated against COVID-19, but in practice many are missing |  Photo: Çiçek Tahaoglu
Syrian refugees in Turkey can officially be vaccinated against COVID-19, but in practice many are missing | Photo: Çiçek Tahaoglu

The government keeps a low profile

The Ministry of Health does not release virtually any data to the public or to non-governmental organizations, so there is no clear picture of how migrants and refugees are affected by the pandemic and to what extent they have been. integrated into Turkey’s vaccination campaign.

Yasin stresses that access to vaccines for all is a fundamental human right and stresses the importance of vaccinating the entire population if we want to beat the pandemic.

Author: Çiçek Tahaoğlu

Translation: Marion MacGregor

* The initials SG are used to protect the privacy and security of the individual.


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