Turkish gov’t still holding 126 construction workers under detention in İstanbul

Turkish police are still holding in custody 126 out of 401 workers who were detained after protests on Friday over labor conditions at the construction site of İstanbul’s third airport.

According to a statement by İstanbul Governor Vasip Şahin on Sunday, 275 of the 401 workers have been released, Şahin said while claiming that those still in detention includes “outsiders who are not workers and who arrived at the scene for ‘provocative actions’.”

The governor said the detainees who did not commit any offense will be released after prosecutors finalize the necessary processes.

Last week, hundreds of workers walked off their jobs to protest what they called “awful” labor conditions. Security forces intervened, firing tear gas to disperse the protesting workers.

“Workers put forward some demands following problems related to delayed shuttle bus services. Upon the disturbance, officials including the gendarmerie commander of the province arrived at the scene to coordinate the efforts. They spoke both with the workers and company officials,” Şahin claimed.

According to the governor, workers returned to work on Sept. 15. “The employers have already started to take action to resolve the problems that the workers raised. The company is also working to meet the workers’ demands,” Şahin also said, claiming that there were no longer any disputes at the construction site.

The Dev Yapı-İş labor union had initially stated that around 500 workers were detained but that 167 of them were later released. The striking workers issued a list of basic demands, including improved safety measures, more shuttle buses and better living conditions. They also demanded that the striking workers not be dismissed from their jobs and that delayed wages be paid.

In the list, the workers also complained about the container homes at the site where they sleep and of bed bugs, which they say infest their beds.

A statement issued by İGA, the company founded to build İstanbul’s third airport, claimed the workers were “aggrieved” because they had to wait in the rain on the morning of Sept. 14 as their shuttles arrived late to take them to the construction site.

Meanwhile, Turkish opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Veli Ağbaba said on Monday that gendarmes had prevented members of parliament from entering the construction site, where workers were on strike.

“They deployed panzers between the deputies and the workers. The gendarmerie said, ‘Working conditions are pretty good!’ When we say we went to see for ourselves, they said, ‘It’s prohibited by the governor’s office.’ What are you hiding? Who are you hiding it from?” Ağbaba asked on Twitter.

Two deputies from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Züleyha Gülüm and Erkan Baş, said also they were prevented from entering a police station where 380 workers were held in custody, the Bianet news outlet said on Monday.

Police also detained 26 people protesting the detention of the airport workers on Saturday in İstanbul’s Kadıköy district. They were all later released. Some 2,000 workers were still on strike at the construction site, Turkish media reported.

In February, the Labor Ministry said 27 workers had died on the construction site since 2015 when works began there. However, according to a report by the Cumhuriyet daily on February 12, 2018, the Turkish authorities have covered up the deaths of 400 construction workers during construction of the third airport in İstanbul.

The report stated that there have been scandals involving work safety in the construction of the third airport, which has attracted the reaction of environmentalists and scientists due to its destruction of nature. It is claimed that dozens of construction workers have lost their lives at the construction site where 31,000 workers are employed.

According to the Cumhuriyet report, the employees have described the construction site as a “graveyard.” The workers said employers have put pressure on workers to hurry up with construction and that there are no work safety measures in place at the construction site. They have said the deaths have been hidden by the employers by giving money to the families of the victims, who have come from as far away as Anatolian cities. A large number of foreign nationals also work at the construction site.

According to the pro-government media, when the first phase of the airport is completed, it will have a capacity of 90 million passengers. With completion in four stages, the airport is expected to serve 150 million passengers and to provide opportunities for flights to more than 350 destinations for nearly 100 airlines. As of 2025, a total of 120 million passengers, including 35,5 million domestic flights and 84,9 million international flights, were expected to be operated in and out the airport.

İstanbul third airport, which is expected to be the largest airport in the world when fully completed in 2023, will serve as Turkey’s primary airport and a hub for connecting flights between Europe and Asia.

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