Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s Georg Forster Research Fellow at Leibniz Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, Germany
Hilal Alkan is Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s Georg Forster Research Fellow at Leibniz Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin. She works on migration, care ethics and informal welfare provision, with a particular focus on gender. Her most recent research is with Syrian migrants in Turkey and in Germany, and she has looked particularly into refugee reception at the neighbourhood level. She is the co-editor of Urban Neighbourhood Formations: Boundaries, Narrations, Intimacies (Routledge 2020).
Edited by Sanaa Alimia and Gianluca Parolin. Working Paper Series for the Governance Programme at the Aga Khan University, Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, London. 2020.
"In the past five months public trust in official numbers and Covid-19 measures has significantly declined in Turkey. As of 20 May, number of daily cases dropped below 1000 and stayed around that for another three weeks. After 1 June, national restrictions were removed gradually. While wearing masks in public became mandatory in many cities, life went back to normal. Although a positive atmosphere prevailed for some time, individual accounts of deliberately mis-registered cause of deaths and unregistered positive cases made it to newspapers regularly. Approaching to the end of summer, TBA offices in a number of provinces claimed higher number of deaths than officially stated. In August several governors published numbers that contradicted the official figures. Hospitals, especially in the south-eastern part of the country, became overcrowded and many deaths were reported due to restricted hospital admission. TBA headquarters, oppositional MPs and health professionals questioned the official statistics, protested against lack of transparency, and public trust plummeted. In a poll conducted by Metropoll, at the beginning of September, only %36 of respondents told that they believed the official numbers. On 30 September the Minister of Health, finally acknowledged that the numbers they published included only the ‘patients’, not all who tested positive. ‘Patient’ proved to be a loose category either, as most with symptoms were treated at home and were not counted as ‘patients’ despite the treatment. The numbers of those who were hospitalized is also not clear, as the Ministry only gives an account of those in critical condition. Finally, those who tested negative but medically treated as probable cases based on clinical findings are also not included. Hence, the decline in public trust."
[Since the report below was published on 15 May 2020 , the situation in Turkey has changed. Dr. Hilal Alkan has kindly given us an update on the latest situation in Turkey as of October 19 2020. For the original report see below and/or the "Download Questionnaire" option above.]
Submission Date: 15 May, 2020
Question #1: Public Trust
Is the government response to the pandemic being met with public approval? Please specify where this assessment is taken from, i.e. YouGov Poll, newspaper headlines, etc.
Although Turkey is very polarized on party lines, it is still possible to say that there is general public approval accompanied with a dose of skepticism. A nationwide poll has not taken place since March 11, when the first Covid-19 case was confirmed. Only GENAR, a poll company often seen as pro-government, made a comprehensive survey in three largest cities and declared that %91 of the citizens found the Health Minister successful during this process. Another Istanbul wide poll by Perlego also shows strong trust to the Ministry of Health and the president, respectively around %89,7 and %67,6.
On the other hand, social media is rife with statements of distrust. Newspapers are divided in their reaction to policies according to their already established pro or against stance against the government. They interview physicians and scientists of their own taste, who make projections ranging between disaster and swift exemplary social and economic recovery.
Highly debated measures include the absolute curfew imposed on 65+ and -20 age groups, the quarantine conditions in university accommodation facilities and the limited scope and distribution of financial assistance.
Question #2: Accurate Statistics
Are accurate statistics on infection rates and death rates available? If so, who is producing this information? And is this information trusted by the public?
Image credit: Selcuk Teke via Pexels.
The Ministry of Health produces all data on tests, confirmed cases and Covid-19 related deaths, collected via the centralized healthcare documentation system. The Minister of Health, Fahrettin Koca makes them public through daily briefings. In terms of tests and confirmed cases, the numbers are not challenged. However, the Turkish Medical Association (TMA), which has the membership of %80 of Turkey’s physicians, criticized the Ministry for not using the codes recommended by WHO in the death certificates. The Minister later rejected the accusations and TMA did not object further. There are also debates about false negative PCR tests, which according to a TMA affiliated physician, triple the confirmed cases.
Question #3: Support for Vulnerable Persons
In instances of a lockdown, what support is available for vulnerable persons, i.e. domestic abuse victims, less able bodied persons?
“Domestic violence is on the rise and women’s groups are trying to create awareness.”
Most municipalities offer home-delivery of hot meals, shopping aid and dog-walking to the less able bodied people and those who are affected by the 65+ curfew. Neighbourhood and kin based networks also play a vital role in meeting these needs in a sustainable way. Remote kin care is also visible as younger generations distantly look after their elderly or sick relatives by shopping online for them.
Domestic violence is on the rise and women’s groups are trying to create awareness. A few municipalities disseminate their own domestic violence hotlines and increase their capacity to offer shelter to the victims of abuse and violence. NGOs working with refugees are printing flyers and brochures to inform women of their rights and possible venues of action.
Question #4: Marginalised Groups
What are some of the challenges that marginalized groups, i.e. low-income households, religious/ ethnic minorities, face with regards to the pandemic?
“2 million [refugees] are left to survive on their own meager resources or with the sporadic assistance of NGOs and individuals.”
Informal economic activities constitute a quarter of the GDP in Turkey. The undocumented labour force work in more precarious conditions than others and form the lowest income strata, already under normal conditions. The pandemic containment measures affected this large segment of the population much more severely, pushing many households to dire poverty, due to absolute loss of income.
Similarly, Turkey’s more than 4 million refugees and asylum seekers constitute a particularly vulnerable group. The vast majority work undocumented and therefore do not qualify for the benefits, nor do they have the chance to shift to home office. During this period, EU funded Turkish Red Cross cash benefits are continued to be distributed and, however limited, make up the main source of living for about 1,7 million Syrians under temporary protection, yet the remaining 2 million are left to survive on their own meager resources or with the sporadic assistance of NGOs and individuals.
Just before the outbreak of the pandemic in March, with the opening of the Greek border on the Turkish side, several thousand refugees flooded to the western land border, only to be violently pushed back by Greek armed forces. After suffering in the no-man’s land for about a month they were then bussed to cities all over Turkey to be quarantined or simply to let go without any assistance. Without their previous living and working arrangements in place, they are now in a particularly critical condition, trying to rebuild their lives in the midst of a lock-down.
The curfew imposed on 65+ created debates on ageism, although it is praised by many as an effective measure in keeping death levels and the pressure on the health system low. %13,4 of this age group was employed before the pandemic and their livelihoods also came under threat with the curfew.
On a different note, as a majority Muslim country with high levels of religious practice during the month of Ramadan, established cultural and social customs are negatively affected by the closure of mosques to mass prayers and the ban on house visits. Ramadan turned out be an extraordinarily lonesome affair, also shadowed by financial difficulties.
Question #5: Local Activism
How are local community groups and/or political groups responding to the pandemic in terms of providing support/ relief to vulnerable persons and/or marginalized groups?
Many groups, official NGOs and informal initiatives alike, offer aid to refugees and undocumented migrants through food packages, bill payments and food vouchers. Now that they cannot offer their normal services like language courses, job trainings, childcare, translation services… etc., their energies are directed towards immediately relief. They are revising their old methods, like home visits or drop-in advice sessions and adapt to new social distancing measures. Boxes or vouchers are often quickly dropped at home addresses of the refugees.
As an example, a local solidarity initiative, Tarlabaşı Dayanışma, in the central and impoverished Tarlabaşı neighbourhood in Istanbul, redirected its efforts to provide basic aid items to undocumented migrants. They locate migrants, most of whom live in overcrowded substandard flats and almost uniformly have lost their jobs, and bring them hygiene items and supermarket vouchers. Their funding comes from individual donations, and volunteers, a mixed group of Turkish nationals and migrants, do the distributions. They try to raise awareness and funds on the social media and sometimes attract in kind donations from firms and small businesses.
Religious groups, brotherhoods and religiously motivated community leaders are also organizing similar campaigns. In the normal course of events the month of Ramadan is a high point in charitable activities. Large groups used to come together in fund-raising dinners for the fast- break (iftar). Now fasts are broken at home, religious and community leaders give their sermons and motivational speeches via Whatsapp voice-recordings, Quran recitations are listened together and donations are immediately transferred through online banking. Later volunteers make the aid deliveries with increasing help from the gate-keepers in beneficiary groups.
A very different example comes from a group of professionals who are now working home office. Their newly formed Citizens’ Solidarity Network documents and maps solidarity initiatives and municipal services that became available during the pandemic. At the moment their reach is limited to secular middle class groups and municipal activities, however they are disseminating widely through social media.
We welcome submissions on how COVID-19 is being managed in different parts of the world.
Please get in touch and tell us something about you and why your pieces are important
The Governance Programme critically assesses current thinking on governance in relation to Muslim contexts. It aims to address the deeply rooted religious and cultural sensitivities prevalent in matters of governance by exploring their impact on the way reforms are received and the way in which institutions are perceived and managed. While focused on Muslim contexts, the programme adopts a comparative approach as the majority of Muslims face the same challenges as other communities in the developing world. Key goals of the programme are to improve the quality of life by promoting the public good in the developing world. By generating key information in accessible, multi-lingual formats, the programme is committed to encouraging healthy and informed debate among scholars and the public alike
Aga Khan University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations is a higher education institution focusing on research, publications, graduate studies, and outreach.AKU-ISMC strives to become an academic leader that provides the highest quality of research and teaching; engaging locally and internationally on questions and debates regarding historic and contemporary affairs of Muslim cultures and societies.