Turkish asylum seeker lost in Evros River after push back to Turkey

Ümit Şakır, 27, is missing since September 3.

Ümit Şakır (27), a Turkish political asylum seeker, arrived in Greece on September 3 by crossing the Evros River and is now missing after Greek authorities sent him back to Turkey last week, Euronews reported.

Şakır and two other Turkish political asylum seekers arrived in Greece by boat and were soon detained by Greek authorities. They were taken to a building in the town of Vyssa, close to the Turkish border, which appeared to be a police station. Salih A. (26), who was with Şakır at the time, said: “We were beaten with clubs in the police station by men wearing masks. We said we were Turkish asylum seekers, but they just said ‘sorry’ and at that point we knew we were going to be sent back to Turkey.”

Şakır was sentenced to six years, three months in prison for alleged membership in the Gülen movement. The Turkish government accuses the movement, a religious group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Salih A. said they were strip-searched. “We told them we were asylum seekers and that we wanted a lawyer. They just laughed at us.” He said they were taken to the Evros River in the back of a truck and that that was when he last saw Şakır. Salih A. explained they were met by a group of masked men on the banks of the river who had guns and dogs. “They took our money and continued beating us. We boarded the boats on the river in groups of 10. They left us in the middle of the river close to Turkey and told us to jump in the river. I could not swim and was dragged by the current. An Afghan man pulled me back to the shore.” He added that he witnessed a few people disappearing into the river.

Ümit Şakır’s brother, Murat Şakır, said the family was worried about the well-being of his brother. He requested that both Greek and Turkish authorities search for his brother.

The number of Turkish asylum seekers has skyrocketed in the recent past due to a dramatic increase in the number of gross human rights violations committed by the Turkish government.

Following the abortive putsch of July 15, 2016, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and launched a massive crackdown on followers of the Gülen movement under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. Over 540,000 people were detained on terrorism-related charges, more than 80,000 were arrested or imprisoned and over 150,000 civil servants were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations.” The purge mainly targeted people who were allegedly affiliated with the Gülen movement but included other people from a wide variety of backgrounds as well.

The European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) documented that Greek authorities in Evros followed a pattern of arbitrary arrest of newly arrived persons entering Greek territory from the Turkish land border, de facto detention in police stations close to the border and transfer to the border, accompanied by the police, where they are pushed back to Turkey. These allegations also concern Turkish citizens who have fled their country of origin and have been returned without having access to asylum.

Human rights watchdogs such as Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watch and Pro-Asyl have published reports that documented several pushback cases. According to the reports, pushbacks have increased exponentially since April 2020. The persisting practice of alleged pushbacks have been reported by UNHCR, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Committee against Torture, the Greek National Commission on Human Rights and civil society organizations.

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