Turkish, Kurdish dissidents seeking asylum in Europe were detained in Greece

A group of refugees including Turkish and Kurdish dissidents were detained by the Greek coast guard on November 3 and were kept in an empty warehouse, Bold Medya reported.

A total of 65 refugees were kept at the Port of Katakolo in western Greece. There have been claims that a pregnant Afghan woman, a Kurdish journalist, a Kurdish politician, members of the Gülen movement and five children were among the detainees. Both Kurds and members of the Gülen movement have been under increasing pressure in Turkey.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim 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.

Kurds have been under increasing pressure in Turkey for exercising their cultural and political rights. There have been prohibitions against the use of Kurdish language, clothing, folklore and names since 1937. The words “Kurds,” “Kurdistan” and “Kurdish” were among those officially prohibited. Many people who spoke, broadcast or sang in Kurdish were imprisoned. Between 2010 and 2014, when an attempt was made to resolve Turkey’s Kurdish problem by means of an official “peace process,” lectures were given in Kurdish in some schools, and Kurdish signs were installed in the cities. But most of these rights were taken back after the failure of the peace talks in 2015.

The refugees claimed they were fleeing the oppression and torture they experienced in Turkey and were aiming to reach Italy, where they would continue their journey to western Europe.

According to the refugees, the warehouse where they were held was unsanitary, and they had to sleep on the floor. “We are afraid of catching infections there,” they told Bold Medya. They were allegedly set free by Greek authorities on November 5.

Following the coup attempt, 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 public 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.

Following the purge, many dissidents sought freedom from oppression outside of Turkey. For instance, in 2019 Turkish asylum seekers were third in terms of numbers after Syrians and Iraqis in Germany according to the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF).

“On the basis of the information available, we assume that the high number of asylum applications by Turkish citizens is also due to the political situation in Turkey,” the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community (BMI) told EURACTIV Germany.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has been under increasing pressure from the Turkish government as well. The HDP is accused of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), but human rights groups say the government uses vague and spurious allegations of terrorism in order to remove or imprison democratically elected HDP mayors. The party’s former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ have been in prison since November 2016.

The PKK is an armed secessionist group listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

According to BAMF figures for 2019, about a quarter of all Turkish asylum seekers were granted refugee protection because they were recognized as fugitives due to persecution, which is more often the case than for refugees coming from other countries.

The Swiss State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), said that about 2,800 Turks had applied for asylum in Switzerland between August 2016 and September 2019, compared with about 1,200 applications during the previous three-year-period.

Turkey ranked second on the list of countries of origin of all asylum-seekers in Switzerland. “The increase in Turkish asylum-seekers is a consequence of domestic developments in Turkey,” said SEM spokesman Lukas Rieder.

Turkish asylum seekers have also faced many difficulties at the Greek border, from physical assault to being shot at.

The Greek police and military frequently have also pushed back refugees who try to enter the country from Turkey.

Several push-backs of Turkish nationals were recorded in 2017. Prominent journalist Murat Çapan along with four other Turks were forced to board a boat bound for Turkish territory near the village of Serem in Evros where they were detained by Turkish security forces. All five adults were arrested. Çapan was sentenced to twenty-two-and-a-half years for two news stories in the Nokta magazine that were critical of the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

In violation of European Union and international laws, Greek authorities appear to be allowing push-backs of Turks fleeing the persecution of the Erdoğan government.

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