Two Turkish teachers who were detained in the Ukrainian city of Rava-Ruska on New Year’s Day have been deported to Turkey by Ukrainian authorities despite anger on social media against their potential removal, Turkish Minute reported, citing a statement from the Turkish Interior Ministry on Wednesday.
The reaction on social media was due to the fact that the teachers would most certainly face persecution in Turkey because they were working at schools in Iraq affiliated with the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by US based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.
The teachers, Salih Fidan and Samet Güre, traveled to Kyiv 51 days ago to make their way to Europe to seek asylum because their Turkish passports were about to expire and they feared Turkish authorities would not renew them. They recently went to Rava-Ruska near Lviv, close to the Polish border, where they were detained by Ukrainian police on Dec. 31 among a crowd of people celebrating the new year. They were accused of entering Ukraine illegally despite the fact that the teachers entered the country with legal travel documents, according to a report on the ukraynahaber news website, which had interviewed the two teachers.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.
The teachers had to file asylum applications at the Ukrainian office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to avoid their deportation but were deported before the asylum process was completed after Turkish Embassy officials in Kyiv reportedly took action to facilitate their return to Turkey. Despite the anger on social media, the teachers were forced to board a plane to İstanbul on the evening of Jan. 5 and were flown to Turkey.
According to a statement from the Turkish Interior Ministry on Wednesday morning, the teachers are being questioned at the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office’s terror crimes department.
They are accused of depositing money in Bank Asya, a now-closed commercial bank affiliated with the Gülen movement.
The names of the teachers were also reportedly mentioned in the depositions of some people who were prosecuted on terrorism charges due to their alleged Gülen links and wanted to benefit from the so-called “effective repentance” law.
Under international human rights law, the principle of non-refoulment guarantees that no one should be returned to a country where they would face torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and other irreparable harm. This principle applies to all migrants at all times, irrespective of migration status.
Since the coup attempt, followers of the Gülen movement have been subjected to a massive crackdown, with the Turkish government and pro-government media outlets demonizing its members.
According to a statement from Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Nov. 26, a total of 292,000 people have been detained while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup. The minister said there are currently 25,655 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed due to links to the Gülen movement.
In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.