Turkey is a safe coun­try”. This is what Euro­pean heads of State keep stat­ing in order to jus­ti­fy the agree­ment for “the reten­tion and exchange” of migrants and refugees. A refu­ta­tion must be made of this denial of reality.

Every­one is care­ful not to look too close­ly on what is going on for a num­ber of for­eign migrants in Turk­ish ter­ri­to­ry, now blocked there because of the agreement.

The “sub-contracting“handed over to the Erdo­gan regime takes on sev­er­al aspects. For Syr­i­an refugees, all depends on the family’s income before they left their coun­try, their geo­graph­i­cal ori­gin (zones with a Kur­dish major­i­ty…) which trans­lates into total aban­don­ment and impov­er­ish­ment for the great major­i­ty, and “eco­nom­ic inte­gra­tion”, either as cheap labor to be exploit­ed at will, or as “new investors” for a tiny minor­i­ty. This is more or less the case in the coun­tries bor­der­ing Syr­ia tak­ing in mil­lions of per­sons, with an added polit­i­cal instru­men­tal­i­sa­tion that is spe­cif­ic to the Turk­ish regime, both at the inte­ri­or lev­el and in terms of the black­mail exert­ed on the EU. We must also reit­er­ate that Turkey has become an open-air prison for all oppo­nents who are denied the right to leave the ter­ri­to­ry, an arrange­ment that suits a lot of people…

The rise of nation­alisms stok­ing the hatred of strangers, and vice-ver­sa, in par­al­lel to the sit­u­a­tion of refugees – most­ly of Syr­i­an ori­gin – attempt­ing to sur­vive out­side the camps and cen­ters is becom­ing worse and worse. Exploit­ed as cheap labor, threat­ened with assault, notably of a sex­u­al nature for women, they are increas­ing­ly the vic­tims of attempt­ed lynch­ings. Just as human rights asso­ci­a­tions have been doing, Gül­süm Ağaoğlu, mem­ber of the HDP’s com­mis­sion on immi­grants and refugees sound­ed the alarm in a press release pub­lished last April 25th, fol­low­ing a nth lynch­ing attempt, this time in the Adanalıoğlu sec­tion of the local­i­ty of Akd­eniz in Mersin, a Mediter­ranean town.

Evic­tion of refugees from the homes shel­ter­ing them can only be inter­pret­ed as sup­port to an atmos­phere of mas­sive lynch­ings. We denounce the fact that the vic­tims of these local attacks are wronged through mass exile. We call upon all social class­es and Rights orga­ni­za­tions to be sen­si­tive to this subject.

In the hate crimes of xeno­pho­bia, one of the man­i­fes­ta­tions of racism that can degen­er­ate into lynch­ings, the polit­i­cal role and respon­si­bil­i­ty of the AKP gov­ern­ment is clear in its trans­for­ma­tion of refugees into a tar­get for threats and blackmail.

In our coun­try, unde­clared work­ers with no social secu­ri­ty and Syr­i­an refugees work­ing in even worse con­di­tions, find them­selves fac­ing off in agri­cul­ture and oth­er labour sec­tors, where they are forced into cut-throat com­pe­ti­tion. Turk­ish work­ers and refugees must ben­e­fit from the same con­di­tions, and work con­di­tions where no rules, no dec­la­ra­tion and no secu­ri­ty exist must be changed.

Once again, we reit­er­ate that the AKP government’s pol­i­cy on refugees, devoid of all human eth­ic, beyond the uti­liza­tion of Syr­i­an refugees as an asset and a bar­gain­ing chits leads to their trans­for­ma­tion into tar­gets, and the revival of racism, when needed.

But Syr­i­an refugees, as war refugees, were not and are not the only ones using Turkey as geo­graph­ic cor­ri­dors for migra­tion. The par­tic­u­lar­ly inhu­man agree­ment reached between the EU and the Turk­ish regime takes into account the diver­si­ty of these migra­tions and has estab­lished a pat­tern of hag­gling and of rec­i­p­ro­cal pseu­do com­mit­ments. Thus, the EU funds the expul­sion of “unde­sir­ables” who do not have asy­lum as a “voca­tion” , as the say­ing goes. There­fore pseu­do “triage cen­ters” become de fac­to “removal” cen­ters, and noth­ing oth­er than plain con­cen­tra­tion areas for unde­sir­ables, where all means are exer­cised to impose a forced return.

In order to com­plete our ques­tion­ing on the issue, here is the trans­la­tion of an arti­cle by Nuray Almac, pub­lished on April 29 2017 in Gazete Duvar.

We wished to add these few para­graphs as a fore­word so that, once again, this ques­tion where every­thing is set­tled through per­fect­ly inhu­man means not remain an object of teary com­pas­sion with no follow-up.

Of course the sub­ject is charged with emo­tion and indig­na­tion, as well it should be, but the defense of human rights also requires a mobi­liza­tion in full aware­ness of the stakes, and a polit­i­cal under­stand­ing of the hypocrisy of the deci­sions now being taken.

Here is the arti­cle in question.

Humanity calls for help through the window !

What a friend told me after he’d gone for a bicy­cle ride, con­cern­ing nois­es com­ing out of the build­ing on the out­skirts of town with a sign that reads “Geri Gön­derme Merkezi” (lit­er­al­ly “Removal Cen­tre”) I found impos­si­ble to believe. I told him: “That can­not be, you must be mistaken ?”

Cries, howls, from peo­ple lean­ing out the win­dows and beg­ging “Help !”

There had to be some mis­take. All day, doubts and ques­tions filled my head. Even though it seemed unlike­ly, I decid­ed to look into the mat­ter. Along with a friend, I took the sub­way to Izmir’s Egekent 2 neigh­bor­hood. Then we took a taxi and asked the dri­ver to take us to the “Removal Cen­ter”. He knew the place. We didn’t ride for long before a large build­ing appeared. It was on city lim­its, but not much fur­ther. Beyond, a woman tend­ed her graz­ing sheep…

Help us, this is Guantanamo !”

Before read­ing the entrance of the build­ing, we asked the dri­ver to let us out . And even before step­ping out of the taxi, we heard cries that sent shiv­ers down our spines. As if we had sud­den­ly land­ed in a movie. A hor­ror movie, deeply shock­ing and trau­ma­tiz­ing. The real­i­ty was so shock­ing that the scenes seemed to move in slow motion and, as if torn from our own selves, we wit­nessed it, hor­ri­fied. I felt total­ly help­less in front of these cries for help. With pow­er­less arm move­ments, I tried to con­vey that I would be a voice, doubt­less a weak one, respond­ing to their cries. Children’s cries mixed into the oth­ers, “Help !”, “Food !”, “This is Gantanamo !”

I imme­di­ate­ly con­tact­ed a few lawyers I know who are involved in pro­tect­ing refugees. I asked what was the legal sta­tus of this build­ing and why strangers were detained there, why they were cry­ing out so des­per­ate­ly for help.

It’s not how it looks from the outside”

One lawyer who wished to express him­self but pre­ferred not to give his name because he has clients under admin­is­tra­tive con­trol in this cen­ter, told me: “Giv­en my respon­si­bil­i­ty as a lawyer, I must speak of what goes on in this place.”

The place is the “Har­man­dalı Removal Cen­ter”. It reports to the Min­istry of the Interior’s Gen­er­al Direc­torate of Immi­gra­tion Administration.

« In fact, when it was set up, it was sup­posed to be a cen­ter where strangers could sign in, enter and leave at will. When seen from the out­side these build­ings look well kept, even lux­u­ri­ous. But, con­trary to this appear­ance, the liv­ing con­di­tions inside are inhu­man. Accord­ing to arti­cle 54 of the “Law on Strangers and their inter­na­tion­al pro­tec­tion (applic­a­ble since April 4 2017) there are motives for the expul­sion of strangers. If a deci­sion is reached to expel a stranger, “admin­is­tra­tive con­trol” is also decreed. Strangers under admin­is­tra­tive con­trol are detained in these places.»

If I let you talk to them, I’ll be transferred”

He also told me what he sees as a lawyer in these centers.

« The con­di­tions in this place are tru­ly jail-like, no just plain reten­tion. My clients tell me they are insult­ed by every­one, from the floor sweep­er to the direc­tor, that they are not fed, and that they are tor­tured. We must wait for hours in front of the door, to keep us from speak­ing with our clients. With such arbi­trary prac­tices, they pre­vent the lawyer’s for exer­cis­ing their pro­fes­sion­al activ­i­ty. This is ille­gal, and it is a crime. The immi­gra­tion advi­sor told me: “If I let you talk to them, I’ll be trans­ferred else­where. That’s the order I received.” While I wait, peo­ple pass by, sick peo­ple, peo­ple with puffy swollen eyes…When I ask about this, I’m told that they fell. You con­stant­ly hear howls com­ing from inside… »

Con­di­tions are worse than in jails”

The lawyer answered my ques­tion “But why inflict such suf­fer­ing on these peo­ple ?” :

« There’s a con­cept called “vol­un­tary return”. Since there’s a legal ban on “expul­sion”, some strangers can not be expelled. By mak­ing them suf­fer, by starv­ing them, by tor­tur­ing them, they force them to sign the doc­u­ment for “vol­un­tary return”. This is how they force them to go back to their coun­try. These peo­ple aren’t howl­ing at the win­dows for noth­ing. Even in jail, con­di­tions are bet­ter. These peo­ple are not crim­i­nals. When you look at the (Inter­na­tion­al Law on Immi­grants), they are enti­tled to a lawyer and to an appeal. But laws don’t apply here. We are talk­ing about total iso­la­tion. This cen­ter is a cen­ter where human rights are violated. »

Nuray Almaç, the orig­i­nal arti­cle in Turk­ish on Gazete Duvar
Trans­lat­ed from L’humanité appelle à l’aide par la fenêtre !

Kumkapı Removal Cen­ter Istan­bul (still 2011…)
“This is not a recep­tion cen­tre, but a ware­house of human beings”

For further information:

On paper, pro­to­co­la exist between the Red Cross and pub­lic ser­vice asso­ci­a­tions in large cen­ters such as Adana, Antalya, Aydın, Bur­sa, Çanakkale, Edirne, Erzu­rum, Gaziantep, İst­anb­ul, İzmir, Kırıkkale, Kırk­lare­li, Tekir­dağ et Van. But there are reports con­cern­ing their dis­re­gard by del­e­ga­tions rep­re­sent­ing the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. For instance, the fol­low­ing sum­ma­ry notes from May 2–4 2016:

  • There are cur­rent­ly 18 “Removal Cen­ters” in Turkey, with a total hold­ing capac­i­ty of 6000 peo­ple. What the author­i­ties report is in total con­tra­dic­tion to the tes­ti­monies of the refugees detained in these cen­ters. The cen­ters are no dif­fer­ent from prisons.
  • Kırk­lare­li Removal Cen­ter: Access to a lawyer is almost impos­si­ble in prac­tice. Lawyers and human­i­tar­i­an asso­ci­a­tions wish­ing to pro­vide sup­port can­not access the center.
  • Edirne Removal Cen­ter: The doc­u­ments giv­en to refugees trans­ferred to this cen­ter are in Turk­ish. The only trans­la­tor in the cen­ter is ara­bic. The refugees’ phones are con­fis­cast­ed with­out warn­ing. The dor­mi­to­ries are filled well beyond their capac­i­ty. Fam­i­lies are locked into their rooms. We learned that a per­son bleed­ing from the mouth was only tak­en to a doc­tor after five days…
  • The Direc­tor at the cen­ter expressed con­cern over expul­sions to the Bul­gar­i­an bor­der. “We know that dur­ing these expul­sions, there were sev­er­al seri­ous injuries. More­o­ev­er, we hear reports of deaths from refugees fol­low­ing attacks by dogs released along the border.”
  • Cor­nelia Ernst (Ger­many): “I’m wor­ried con­cern­ing the fun­da­men­tal human rights of refugees sent to Turkey in the frame­work of the treaty nego­ti­at­ed between Turkey and the UE. I still don’t under­stand how a treaty based on the prin­ci­ple of dri­ving back refugees can be legit­i­mate and legal.”
  • Mari­na Albi­ol (Spain): “Turkey has been  ‘leased’ as a cen­ter for the turn­ing back of refugees. The immi­gra­tion poli­cies devel­oped in Brus­sels are applied here. We have seen the ter­ri­ble con­se­quences on human beings of these poli­cies imposed by the EU. We have observed dur­ing our vis­it that Turkey is not a ‘secure coun­try’ and that the fact the EU con­sid­ers it a ‘secure coun­try’ is based on the oppor­tu­ni­ty of hav­ing an organ­ism of con­trol out­side the UE.”
  • Josu Juar­isti (Autonomous Basque Region): “It it not accept­able that fam­i­lies with chil­dren should be retained in removal cen­ters. And this occurs thanks to fund­ing from the EU. One mil­lion school-aged refugee chil­dren are in Turkey and only 13% of them have access to school­ing. We are leav­ing an entire gen­er­a­tion with­out a future. EU coun­tries are direct­ly respon­si­ble for this.”

[The entire GUE-NDL Report, in Eng­lish pdf)

Despite the reports, the dec­la­ra­tions, the warn­ings and the whis­tle blow­ing, new projects for cen­ters, most of them fund­ed by the EU, con­tin­ue to flour­ish in Turkey.

Oth­er than the 18 exist­ing cen­tres, the web­site of the Min­istry of the Interior’s Gen­er­al Direc­tion for the admin­is­tra­tion of immi­gra­tion proud­ly dis­plays the new projects on this doc­u­ment, updat­ed on l 28/02/2017.

In the com­ing months a new Removal Cen­ter for 750 peo­ple will open in Van. (Project fund­ed by the EU).

Between 2014–2015, 11 Removal cen­ters were planned, for an over­all bud­get of 98.600.000,00 TL, in Ankara (500 peo­ple), Ağrı (400 p), Çanakkale (250 p), Kocaeli (250 p), Malatya (250 p), Tekir­dağ (400 p), Istan­bul (Con­tain­er) (1200 p), Hatay (400 p), Kırıkkale 400 p), Antalya (120 p), Aydın (Con­tain­er) (400 p), Total: 4570 people.

Con­struc­tion of cen­ters is ongo­ing in Çanakkale, Aydın, Antalya, Ağrı and Kocaeli. The first three are expect­ed to be oper­a­tional in the first semes­ter of 2017. The ones in the oth­er towns are at the plan­ning stage.

In the frame­work of the EU project and treaty, 6 cen­ters were sub­mit­ted for fund­ing. Dis­cus­sions are ongo­ing. Balıke­sir, Bay­burt, Bitlis, Kütahya, Niğde, Şan­lıur­fa, (each cen­ter with a capac­i­ty of 400 peo­ple), for a total of 2400.

A “warn­ing” in one of the centers…

The list can­not be exhaus­tive, much of the infor­ma­tion is hard to come by or inten­tion­al­ly dis­persed over dif­fer­ent “stud­ies” or “reports”. Kedis­tan doesn’t have the EU or the Coun­cil of Europe’s inves­tiga­tive teams…

Even so, tes­ti­monies con­cur in describ­ing the inhu­man con­se­quences of polit­i­cal deci­sions reached by heads of State most­ly con­cerned with the ris­ing xeno­pho­bia in their pub­lic opin­ions. The “secure” arm to the drown­ings in the Mediter­ranean or the Aegean Sea, and to the prison uni­vers­es on Euro­pean soil itself on the “closed road of the Balka­ns” or of Greek incar­cer­a­tion in undig­ni­fied con­di­tions, turns out to be a fund­ed inhu­man­i­ty, the crush­ing of peo­ple out of sight.

Vis­i­bly, we are capa­ble of for­get­ting ani­mal suf­fer­ing in slaugh­ter­hous­es in order to fill our plates with pro­tein. The dis­tanc­ing and the sub-con­tract­ing of that suf­fer­ing allows us to digest while view­ing reas­sur­ing images on TV. Even if the com­par­i­son with migrants and the “treat­ment” they receive is dar­ing no doubt, the psy­cho­log­i­cal motives dri­ving the process are the same.

Politi­cians learned their les­son from the images of lit­tle Aylan. Busi­ness can go on behind this chain of dilut­ed respon­si­bil­i­ties where human­i­ty can only call for help through the win­dow with­out its cries break­ing through the silence. In a Turkey that impris­ons or exiles its own pop­u­la­tion, among which some like Barış Yazgı  end up los­ing their life through despair on the refugees’ road tak­en in order to sur­vive, we could not let these nois­es go unnoticed…Inhuman nois­es, among oth­er nois­es of the world.

Trans­la­tion by Renée Lucie Bourges.
French ver­sion >
L’humanité appelle à l’aide par la fenêtre !

Image :  Kumkapı Explu­sion Cen­ter in Istan­bul (2012)

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