Arrested before they could even reach the sea (vom 25.08.2008),
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[25. Aug 2008]

Arrested before they could even reach the sea

Beginning with June 8, police and coastguards of the coastal area of Didim, Turkey, arrested within 10 days a total of 250 people without documents coming from Palestine, Iraq, Mauritania and Somalia. On the grounds that it is too hot and that the streets are blocked, these people, including 4 women and two children, were retained in the stadium of Didim. On June 14 an escape attempt was averted.

Arrested before they could even reach the sea

The part of the Aegean Sea stretching across the Greek islands and the Turkish coast embodies one of the outer borders of the EU. It is one of the main routes for people coming from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Africa, here especially Somalia, Mauritania and Eritrea, with the objective to enter Europe. Their other option would be the land route to Greece or to Bulgaria via Turkey.

One of the issues high on the list in Turkey's negotiations for accession to the EU is the security of the Turkish borders. Already, this causes the borders to move more and more to the inside of the country. Police and/or gendermerie controls are increasingly carried out at the access roads to the coast and the harbours. People are arrested more often just as they start on the way to the boats or ships for transfer to Greece. On April 4 for example a truck full of people was stopped near Dikili and everybody inside was arrested. In May 2008 police arrested eight people with Turkish passports who were hidden in a cargo ship.

Beginning with June 8, police and coastguards of the coastal area of Didim, Turkey, arrested within 10 days a total of 250 people without documents coming from Palestine, Iraq, Mauritania and Somalia. On the grounds that it is too hot and that the streets are blocked, these people, including 4 women and two children, were retained in the stadium of Didim. On June 14 an escape attempt was averted.
On June 16, coastguards blocked the passage of a boat with 21 people from Palestine, Somalia, Eritrea and Mauritania on board, who tried to reach the Greek Island Samos from Didim. They were released, since after all they had valid Turkish visas. The same day another 15 people from Palestine and Mauritania were arrested in a truck near Didim. Yet another 20 people from Palestine, Burma and Iraq were arrested on the same day in the border town of Enez between Turkey and Greece.

On June 17 a transporter with 17 refugees from Mauritania and Palestine was stopped on the way to the coast near Kusadasi. The people were detained in a guest house. The same day a truck with 55 people from Pakistan was stopped more than 100 km away from the coast inland. According to their statements they intended to cross from Agri to Greece.

Only a few sea-miles...

The little distance between the coastal regions near Izmir and the Greek islands - only a few sea-miles - seems to be a safe route to enter the EU, especially in winter.

Bad weather makes a successful landing in Greece easier - successful meaning a landing unnoticed by the authorities. Nevertheless bad weather implies a life-threatening situation for the jammed and overcrowded boats. In winter there is a lot of news about capsized boats. People in distress at sea – and often they don't even know how to swim - are being rescued by fishermen or Turkish coastguards. Too often aid comes too late and dead bodies are stranded at the shore.

On December 8th 2007 a boat with 85 people from Africa and the Arabic region was on its way from the small town Seferihisar near Izmir to Samos. Because of the bad weather conditions the boat keeled over. Stranded bodies alarmed the coastal population to start salvage, but only 6 people were rescued alive and 46 bodies were found drowned.

On March 16, 2008 at least 4 people drowned at the south coast near the region of Hatay, another three were rescued by the coastguard. On March 24 2008 the coastguard found 6 drowned bodies near Didim. But all known and documented cases represent only the tip of the iceberg.
The coastguard is implementing the demand for the protection of the interests of the EU-countries for controlled migration of young, qualified and disciplined but cheap labour in blocking with all means and methods any uncontrolled passage to Greek territories. Unwanted people seeking asylum are pushed to and fro by Turkish and Greek authorities. Neither side wants to be responsible for them.

Guesthouses for Non-Citizens

In the last few years communities of migrants have developed in Izmir, Istanbul, and some other cities in Turkey. These communities are made up of people who are waiting for a chance to migrate or to find passage. It means waiting in cheap hotels or other forms of accommodation, the daily stress of avoiding the threat of police controls and repeated trials and futile attempts to cross the border.

In Greece there is the menace of detention camps and deportation, in Turkey there is the threat of being held in "guest houses for foreigners", established in the absence of any law regarding the treatment of foreigners, and on sites that are remote from the surrounding settlements. They are located in the cities of Ankara, Edirne, Hatay, Izmir, Kirklareli, Yozgat, Van and a couple of them in Istanbul. The threat of deportation is also persistent in the Turkish case.

In theses guesthouses people are detained for different reasons. Some are imprisoned because of illegal border crossing. In some cases the possibilities of deportation to their countries of origin are checked – the countries have to agree to take them back - others await deportation without any procedures. The period of waiting in a guesthouse is not officially treated as detention, but the de facto situation is that the inhabitants are kept under lock and not allowed to leave the place .

In 1951 Turkey deployed a right of asylum in signing the Geneva Convention with a geographical restriction: Only people from Europe are considered for Asylum. People from non-European countries are not granted long term residence permit on the grounds of the right for asylum. They are considered as refugees with a limited right to stay and not as Asylum seekers. Commenting on the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly's report the ministry of interior affairs suggests that the term "illegal refugee / illegal Migrant" be used instead of the term "Asylum seeker"

The implementation of human rights is restricted by this indistinct legal status of the foreigners. Thus the duration of the detention is not clear and can last up to more than a year. Frequently detention is terminated by deportation. In cases where the people are tolerated as refugees with a limited right to stay, they are transferred to small towns in Central Anatolia. People have to pay the costs of the transport themselves, and they get very low financial support. They are allowed to move freely provided they do not leave the town.

There are numerous complaints and reclamations about the overcrowding of the guesthouses. 200 people share only 16 beds. Hygienic facilities are not sufficient: there is a lack of drinking water; no or almost no hot water. There is no heating in winter, and in summer it is too hot. Medical supplies do not exist or are insufficient. The detainees are subject to physical assault by the police, and are punished when they voice complaints. They have almost no permission for visits. Strict segregation of sexes implies separation of families: even small boys are separated from their mothers and sisters. Only in two of the guesthouses was it possible for the detainees to see their relatives and friends in the yard.

Even the NGO's are granted only exceptional access to the guesthouses. Therefore it is virtually made impossible to get legal consultation concerning applications for asylum or at least for a limited right to stay. In transit zones such as airports it is totally impossible to submit any applications.

It is only through occassional coverage in the press that the public gets a view from inside the guesthouses, as happened with the news of the "riots" in the guesthouse in Edirne in September 2006, or in Kirklareli in June 2008. In such sporadic news the refugees have been reported to set their mattresses on fire in order to escape. Given the lack of any thorough information on the situation of the detainees such news coverage fails to convey the actual picture in the guesthouses.

Those who cannot be deported because their countries of origin are not able to identify them or do not accept deportation, remain as invisible migrants living in a twilight zone. Namely they are not threatened by deportation, but nor can they get a working permit, or any support from authorities, or even acquire legal status.