Turkey denies international protection to journalists who have fled Afghanistan – sometimes using force. Afghan reporter Bashir Atayee and his lawyer Adnan Onur Acar talk to the Kite Runner on how the illegal deportation practice works.
Interview: Sabine Küper-Büsch:
You were arrested in July? How did that happen?
Bashir Atayee: Police officers did an ID check on the bus I just got on and found that I no longer had a valid residence permit. I explained to the police that I am at risk in Afghanistan because I have refused to work with the Taliban. Even before the seizure of power, they had approached individual journalists. I was one of them. That is why I did not return from visiting relatives in Istanbul after the regime change in August 2021. The police then swore that they would only check my personal information at the police station and then take me back to my neighborhood. I was only supposed to fill out a form. I would be able to go home afterwards they promised. Otherwise I would have to stay in a camp for illegal refugees for months. I knew that I shouldn’t sign it and went straight to the deportation camp in Tuzla. The first night I had to sleep on an outdoor soccer field. I didn’t get anything to eat for the first three days. Then I was assigned accommodation in a stuffy, smelly room. There 13 people shared six beds.
Is that common practice?
Adnan Onur Acar: Unfortunately yes. And it works. Hundreds of Afghans are currently being deported every day – far too many “voluntarily”- when the refugees sign an agreement to leave the country. The officials misinforme refugees or put massive pressure on them. Internationally, Afghan refugees are considered endangered, journalists in particular, and there is the possibility of suing the Turkish courts for protection due to special danger. But most of those affected don’t know that. After Bashir Atayee’s arrest, I requested his immediate release. The Administrative Court informed me that the deportation was legal. Atayee entered the country illegally and abused the Turkish toleration status they claimed. That was wrong: he entered the country legally on a tourist visa and had informed the immigration authorities that he was at risk. He was first granted a residence permit for six months, and then they wrongly refused to issue a new one, as we are now trying to prove with an administrative lawsuit. He cannot be deported while the proceedings are ongoing.
Did you know that in detention?
Bashir Atayee: Not at first. In the Tuzla detention center, on the third day after the biometric registration, the police forced me to sign that I agree to leave the country. I was desperate.
How did the security forces put pressure on you?
Bashir Atayee: They beat me up and threatened me with even worse beatings. After six days in Tuzla, I was taken to a camp in İğdir near the Iranian border. I thought that was it, now they’re deporting me. I stayed there for 50 days in fear.
How are the conditions there?
Bashir Atayee: Horrible, like in Tuzla: overcrowded accommodation, 20 people in one room, too few beds, hardly anything to eat, unhygienic sanitary facilities and many desperate refugees. People are also mistreated there to force them to sign their declarations of consent and then be deported. Eventually I got a form. I was asked to report it to Trabzon within ten days. Then I was released. I didn’t understand at all what is happening. The lawyer then explained to me that this was an invitation to register in order to have the status of an internationally recognized refugee.
Isn’t that a reason to celebrate?
Adnan Onur Acar: The non-deportation definitely. But these registration formalities are usually the beginning of an odyssey through Turkey in search of an immigration authority that will accept the application. Bashir was first sent to Trabzon on the Black Sea coast – from there to Nevşehir in central Anatolia – then a hundred kilometers further to Niğde. At each official point, non-responsibility is determined and the refugee is sent to the next, each with a notice period of ten days. As a result, those affected have no peace, they run out of money, and the authorities hope that at some point they will give up and leave the country voluntarily.