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Women's shelters in Turkey's Kurdish regions forced to close after spike in demand following lockdown

WOMEN’S shelters in the largely Kurdish region of Diyarbakir have been forced to close their doors due to a spike in demand and staff shortages caused by Turkey’s coronavirus outbreak.

According to local officials the shelters are struggling to deal with rising levels of abuse as the government continues to fail to provide adequate support for women to escape violent situations.

Kardelen Women’s House is among those unable to take new applications. It is instead directing women to the Violence Prevention and Monitoring Centre (Sonim). But Sonim is sending women to the police station from where they are taken under escort to the nearest hospital and tested for coronavirus.

Their applications are only considered if they test negative — but Sonim’s six centres in Diyarbakir are all full to capacity, leaving the women with nowhere to go.

Turkey has long faced criticism from rights organisations for its failure to invest adequately in women’s shelters.

There are just 132 in a country that has a population of 84 million. By comparison, Sweden, with a population of 10 million, has 161 shelters.

Most of the facilities are run by the Family, Labour & Social Services Ministry, with others operated by a mixture of municipalities and not-for-profits, including Purple Roof.

Femicide remains a major issue in Turkey. Last year more than 300 women were murdered and a number of high-profile killings, including that of Emine Bulut, led to national protests.

According to campaign group We Will Stop Femicide, 2,600 women have been murdered since 2010, most of them by their partners.

The latest figures show that 21 women have been killed since the government issued advice to stay at home on March 11 due to the Covid-19 outbreak. At least 18 were murdered in their own homes.

Earlier this week the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) demanded the government provide extra funding to deal with the rise in gender-based violence, including extra funding for women’s shelters.

Fears over increased threats to women and children have been raised as the ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP) seeks the release of criminals including rapists, paedophiles and those that have committed gender-based violence under emergency measures to stop the spread of coronavirus in prisons.

Associations of lawyers, women’s rights groups and the HDP have opposed the measures, whereby some 100,000 of Turkey’s 300,000 prison population would be released on probation on reduced sentences.

Those charged with terror offences are not included in the measures. This means that about 50,000 political prisoners, including journalists and academics along with HDP members and other politicians, will remain behind bars.

The judicial package was still being debated as the Morning Star went to print.

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