Asylum seeker pushed back to Turkey by Greek authorities speaks of intolerable prison conditions

Mehtap Karpuzcu with her son
Mehtap Karpuzcu with her son

Mehtap Karpuzcu (35), one of the refugees on a boat that was pushed back to Turkey by the Greek coast guard on August 16, spoke about her ordeal and the intolerable conditions in prison in a letter from her cell in Çanakkale.

Arrested after arriving back in Turkey, Karpuzcu detailed the events that took place on the night of her attempted flight from Turkey to Greece and her subsequent incarceration in a letter to her family published by Bold Medya.

Since a coup attempt in 2016, the Turkish government has been clamping down on dissident voices and opposition media outlets, imprisoning thousands of people, as a result of which many Turkish citizens are seeking safety overseas. The group that was pushed back by the Greek coast guard was likewise trying to leave Turkey to avoid prosecution.

Prior to her journey to asylum, Karpuzcu had been sentenced to six years, three months due to her alleged affiliation with the faith-based Gülen movement, a religious group inspired by US based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen. Mehtap Karpuzcu’s husband, Osman Karpuzcu, has been in prison for four-and-a-half years on a similar conviction.

The Turkish government accuses the movement of masterminding an abortive putsch on July 15, 2016 and labels it as a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Karpuzcu and the other asylum seekers on the boat were detained by the Turkish police on their arrival in the Turkish coastal town of Ayvalık. The detainees were taken to Çanakkale, three hours south of Ayvalık, and put in isolation cells.

Karpuzcu speaks about the prison conditions in her letter and says she is anxious about what will happen next. “I am waiting for our quarantine to end in this prison cell. This is a temporary cell, and it is unfortunately isolated. The conditions here are not very good. It is actually a prison for men, but they have reserved four wards for women. Since there are no wards for us, we [asylum seekers] must stay in isolated cells.”

Karpuzcu recalls that she was denied painkillers one night when she had piercing headaches. “I had a terrible headache yesterday night. They did not give me any painkillers. I asked them again when I woke up for morning prayers, but they still refused me any. We were very worried when we had to share a cell with common criminals as some of them had razors marks on their bodies. Drugs, murder… Everything is so different here.”

Karpuzcu’s family has spoken out against her imprisonment. Her father has condemned the Greek authorities, saying: “My seven-year-old grandson is in Antalya and cannot see his mother. They cannot speak on the phone, and the little boy is distressed. Her husband is also in prison so he is left without parents.”

In recent months, a number of news reports claimed that Greece has pushed back groups of asylum seekers to Turkey. Human rights watchdogs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Pro-Asyl have published reports that documented several pushback cases. According to the reports, pushbacks have increased exponentially since April 2020.

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