Uzbek Refugees

This incident was spoken of and recorded in a very limited sphere with the witnessing of very few individuals as a case of asylum that doesn’t fit into our historical heritage and that shall be recorded in our history as a black page. However, it shall yield great benefit to the public if this case that is a black spot in the asylum history of our country is known widely. This is a situation that we attach great importance since it proposes an opportunity to know and discuss what is being encountered and to eliminate the problems. Maybe only thus we can find an opportunity to understand that these people are not just numbers but individuals with serious drams. The unfortunate situation in this “concrete case” in respect of us was that the biggest part of their dram was experienced here in Turkey.

A group of family that were frightened and escaped from the breaches of the human rights and pressures in Uzbekistan requested for asylum in Turkey in 2007 stating that they couldn’t find the necessary safe protection in Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Iran – although they were recognized as refugee by UNHCR. They submitted their asylum applications in accordance with the legislation to UNHCR and the Ministry of Internal Affairs due to the geographical limitation included in the asylum law of Turkey by 1951 Agreement. While they were hopeful for being accepted by a 3rdcountry for having acquired refugee status from UNHCR, they encountered an unexpected and shocking incident in 12 September 2008.

The Uzbek refugees – as they explained to the head of the Bar of Van, IHD Van Branch president and Mazlum Der Van Branch president – were invited to the Police Headquarters of Van with the reason that “school stationery was going to be provided to their children”. Excluding one member of the family that hide upon seeing what was happening, all of them were collected hastily in a bus and were deported on the border of Turkey-Iran in an unmanned mountainous region by force. In their application of asylum in Turkey, all of the provisions in the legislation were breached, no official/written reply on their applications was notified to them and thus they were deported without abiding by the legal processes and the opportunities to apply for judicial and administrative procedures that were their right as per the legislation. They were deceived, beaten and threatened. According to what they say, the officials that deported them in the mountainous region on the border said that “We don’t want you here, we don’t need you here!” Even worse they were captured by “a group of people” that tormented them by taking hostage the individuals deported by Turkey in this region and that acquired it as a profession to demand a ransom from the relatives of these people.

In the meantime, it will be convenient to explain this “group of people”: Although I went to Van for refugee cases very frequently, I heard about this group so far away from Van, in Patra, a province of Greece. A group of Afghan asylum-seekers told me about a group of people who acquired it as a profession to take hostage people and demand ransom from the relatives in the mountainous region of Turkey-Iran border where there is no security force. These people are most probably the villagers that live in Iranian side of this buffer zone and that settled there for this profession. This group captures the asylum-seeker and immigrant population that are especially deported by Turkey, then takes them hostage, demand ransom from their relatives and sends them back to Turkey after receiving the ransom. Of course this group also resorts to some adverse activities such as beating, keeping in cold, or cutting some organs such as ear and finger if the level of fear is not found sufficient or the relatives don’t agree with paying the ransom. I believe that we can speak of a band of jackals that has acquired it as a profession to earn money by force and illegally as Turkey deports people by dragging them to an unmanned region by force instead of delivering them to Iranian officials. For this reason, Turkey should especially take into account this unjust treatment as one of the consequences of deportation that doesn’t comply with law.

After this incident was informed to human rights associations, Amnesty International sent two separate urgent action calls to Iran authorities in 17 September 2008 as “rescue of deported individuals and repatriate them back to Uzbekistan”1and to Turkish authorities in 18 September 2008 as “not to deport the family composed of 3 individuals” that were also included in the same group but couldn’t be captured since they were late to arrive in the police headquarters2. In a press release by Amnesty International Turkey Branch, Refugees Solidarity Association (M Der), Helsinki Citizens Association (HCA), Human Rights Association (HRA), Human Rights and the Aggrieved Solidarity Association (Mazlum Der) and Human Rights Agenda Associations (HRAA); the incident was defined as “open and cruel breach of refugee law” and it was requested that an efficient, fast, just and transparent investigation is raised on the responsible parties of this operation, the results are shared with the public and necessary precautions are taken so that similar breaches are not encountered3.

A positive result couldn’t be obtained. Then, according to what the injured parties said to the President of the Bar of Van province Adv. Ayhan ǁBUK, HRA Van Branch President Adv. CCANİŞ and Mazlum Der Van Branch President Adv. Abdt BİLDİRİCİ; they were deported by force and beating and fell into the hands of a group that demanded ransom and then entered Turkey for the second time after the family in Van paid their ransom and they reached Van again1.

However, this adverse course of incidents wasn’t limited to this dramatic incident and in the night of 11 October 2008 they were collected from their houses in Van by the police. All of the attempts of human rights associations before the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Governorship, Security Directorate, Van parliamentarians and Prosecution Office were again proved to be unsuccessful and thus 27 Uzbek refugees, which included 15 children (3 of which were babies) and 6 women (1 of which was pregnant), were deported again. The human rights associations that went after the incident held a press conference in Istanbul with the participation of Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) in order to put forward their anxieties1. Amnesty International also announced its anxiety about the subject by a press release in London2. However, since no contact could be established with the injured parties after this deportation we don’t know what kind of a deportation was applied, what happened to them beyond the border and what is their status right now.

The deportation of Uzbek refugees within this one month for two times and method-procedures of this deportation is absolutely and explicitly in breach of international law and national legislation. The fact that Uzbek refugees, who couldn’t find safety in any other country and were afraid of being deported back to Uzbekistan, had taken refuge in Turkey didn’t create a safety area for them. And the fact that UNHCR had given them the status of refugee didn’t provide them any protection since Turkish authorities didn’t respect this decision and comply with it. The attempts of UNHCR towards preventing the persons that acquired this status from being deported were proved to be unsuccessful as well. Although the decision of Turkish authorities was negative, the right of administrative appeal and appeal to administrative judgment that is included in the national legislation wasn’t respected and even notification wasn’t sent in order to prevent the application to these procedures from the very beginning. This incident has no aspect that can be defended in respect of law.

At this point, considering the fact that there are 18.000 asylum-seekers as of November 2008 and 50.000 irregular immigrants as of October 2008 in Turkey, why these 27 Uzbek refugees, including 15 children (3 of which were babies) and 6 women (1 of which was pregnant), were deported to Iran for two times breaching the international and national law while they were about to be placed in a third country soon and while they were under international protection being recognized as refugee by UNHCR? This question perplexes our minds. The Ministry of Internal Affairs underlines the fact that they were deported to Iran, not to Uzbekistan, and they claim that Iran is a “safe country” for these people. However it is very well known that Iran is not a safe country for Uzbek refugees in many aspects. Besides, even if Iran is a safe country for them, the breaches on asylum law are too apparent to claim that “deportation process was conducted in accordance with the legislation”.

For this reason, it was even more remarkable to learn that the Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Babacan and his Uzbek counterpart Vladimir Norov met and discussed the Uzbek refugees that took refuge in Turkey in addition to some other subjects in Paris, where they were present for “EU-Central Asia Forum”1. This news reminded us of the question whether we were facing a situation similar to “Turkey-Uzbek refugees” relation that has been discussed and that is very important in Mametkulov-Turkey case in European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The human rights associations that worked together in this incident applied to TBMM (Grand National Assembly of Turkey) Human Rights Investigation Commission Presidency in 19 September 2008 after the first deportation in addition to other applications. The commission found the application serious and started working on it. Undoubtedly, administrative and judicial supervision mechanism haven’t been processed up to now in deportations and decisions taken on asylum. For this reason, it will be seen in time whether the application to the commission shall yield any result or not.

It is supposed that very few bureaucrats have been working for a very long time on the subject of establishing and implementing policies on asylum as the only decision maker and asylum authority. The members of the Parliament that comprise the principle legislation force don’t seem to be interested in this area. Even though we observe that few parliamentarians from different parties seemed to be interested in the issue, the level of this interest is insufficient. There isn’t information where there is no interest and we can’t observe the refugee rights perspective that we always want to hear and observe in parties. For that reason, the fact that TBMM Human Rights Investigation Commission established a sub-committee for refugees and that this committee has been dealing with the incident of Uzbek refugees gives us at least a faint light of hope. Undoubtedly, the determinations and suggestions of “Stuck in a Revolving Door” report that has been published recently by Human Rights Watch should be very important for the members of Parliament that holds the legislative power.

An exemplary attempt that we are not used to see in refugee incidents came from Memorial that is active in Russia and from also Association Droits de l’Homme en Asie Centrale (HRCA) that is active in France. The organizations that have been following the case right from the beginning issued press releases and they sent a petition signed by 20 human rights defenders and intellectuals from 10 countries to the President, Primer Minister and TBMM members. We can assume that the incident is being followed better in Europe than Turkey thanks to the pursuit by ECRE as well.

However, ECHR has demonstrated an application that should be criticized in this incident: the members of the family that were saved from the first deportation since they weren’t captured as they were late to the police department applied to ECHR by means of their advocates in Van in order not to share the same destiny. The family requested that the Court gave a temporary injunction decision so that deportation process is stopped in accordance with the article 3 in line with the rule 39. However, the Court didn’t give the temporary injunction decision since the persons were not captured by the Police and thus there was no risk of deportation. Unfortunately, this Uzbek family was also captured in the second operation and deported. Thus, it was bitterly understood how serious the risk of deportation was although it wasn’t taken seriously by the ECHR. For this reason, we think that ECHR should review the criteria of evaluating the risk factor in applications of the Rule 39 towards Turkey.

We have always criticized the illegal deportation processes of Greece in the Aegean Sea and Thrace and we will continue criticizing. However, we have to face the reality that Turkish authorities are doing the same in the eastern part of the country and we have to establish the supervision of administrative and judicial mechanisms on this subject. After the tragic incident that took place in Habur in 23 April 20081, Uzbek refugees incident should be also considered in depth by the Turkish authorities and necessary investigations should be commenced on the responsible parties. If we can achieve this, we will have taken a crucial and a strong step in proving the fact that Turkey is a state of law especially in the field of refugees. If we can achieve this, we will be able to believe that the words of the official yelling “We don’t want you hear, we don’t need you here!” to Uzbek refugees being deported by force and beating – as it is alleged – are only his own opinion and not the refugee policy of Turkey which is not indeed written. Otherwise, we shouldn’t be expected to believe it.

Av. Taner Kılıç

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