The Foreigners and International Protection Draft Law may allow access to free healthcare services for refugees, asylum seekers and tourists in Turkey by resolving issues pertaining to the legal definition of foreigners in the country.
The Social Security and General Health Insurance (SSGSS) Law that came into force in 2008 represented a step forward, as it entitled "asylum seekers and stateless [individuals]" to general health insurance under its 60th article, but lack of clarity in legal definitions failed to resolve the problem.
The terms "refugee" and "asylum seeker" in international law correspond to "refuge applicant" and "asylum applicant" in Turkey's current legislation. The 60th article of the SSGGS Law, however, does not define how this law is to be applied to them.
The Social Aid and Solidarity Foundations (SYDV) under local governors' offices partly cover such health expenses for individuals who lack the means to pay for healthcare, but their budget is limited, and their roles in meeting foreigners' health costs vary from province to province.
Moreover, foreigners, applicants and tourists in Turkey end up having to pay three to four times the premiums paid by Turkish citizens to access healthcare services, according to Elçin Türkdoğan, the Refugee Rights Project Coordinator of the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TIHV.)
"It seems as if the new law is going to solve this problem. The section [entitled] 'Access to the Right to Health' under the Foreigners and International Protection Draft Law does include refuge and asylum applicants that are not mentioned in the SSGSS Law. It is possible that this law could solve this problem," she told bianet.
In fact, there a quite a number of inconsistencies in Turkey's present legislation regarding foreigners' right to healthcare services, Türkdoğan also added.
A previous attempt by Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Sebahat Tuncel to tackle this issue had failed when Parliament turned down her proposal to amend the SSGSS Law on Feb. 17, 2012.
While the new draft law may be able to solve the problem, the fact that it will enter into force an entire year after its legislation also represents a significant hurdle, Türkdoğan said, adding that this issue could also be resolved by allocating a budget to the local SYDVs for one year.
Due to the definitions employed in the current law, there are only seven asylum seekers and 598 stateless individuals in Turkey who are covered under general health insurance as of July 2011, according to data from the Ministry of Interior. Over 25,000 "refuge and asylum applicants," as they are currently defined in Turkish law, lack general health insurance due to this reason. (MAF)