Erdogan’s Turkish refugees in Thessaloniki: What they say to DW |

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Sabachatin Toprak owns a restaurant in Thessaloniki

Sabahattin Toprak sits in his small restaurant, located in front of the Rotunda in Thessaloniki. The history of the building is as complex as that of the city itself: Temple of worship in antiquity, later Christian church, mosque during the Ottoman Empire… Today it is one of the world cultural monuments of the city. The minaret from the Ottoman period has even been saved and is clearly visible from the small shop of Toprak.

In Turkey, Toprak was accused of being associated with the Gulen movement. He left the country five years ago and can no longer return to his homeland: Since the coup attempt in 2016, the regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has targeted the political opponents of the president: “My brother-in-law and my nephew are in prison. “Turkey is not safe,” he told DW. “Once the Erdogan regime considers an opponent in any way, there are consequences,” he said. “They behave like the mafia.”

Toprak considers Thessaloniki his home, despite the fact that the political situation between Ankara and Athens has deteriorated significantly over the past year and a half. Although he was seldom confronted with open hostility on the part of the Greeks, he believes that tensions between the two countries have created uncertainty in relations.

“Many of my friends here are terrified of the situation,” he says. “They do not know what is going to happen or how to behave. “You can not feel safe under these conditions, which is why many have left Greece.” Concerns about a possible military conflict he believes do not exist, but there are rumors that Athens and Ankara could reach an agreement – and (s.s. Turks) refugees suspected of belonging to the Gulen movement will then be extradited to Turkey.

Turkish journalist Ragip Duran has been living in Thessaloniki for five years

Systematic oppression

Turkish journalist Ragip Duran has been living in Thessaloniki for five years. During his career of over 40 years he worked mainly for foreign media. Big names like AFP or Liberation provided some protection against government influence. But in 2016 the situation changed: “I am no longer a political refugee,” Duran told DW. “I am just a foreign journalist working here.”

After the coup attempt in 2016, it was impossible to work as a journalist in Turkey, he points out. “Journalism has been banned in the country,” he says with a laugh, as if accustomed to the absurdity of systematic repression in his homeland. ».

After arriving in Thessaloniki, he learned that he had been sentenced to 18 months in prison in Turkey, but that verdict has now changed: one day”. According to him, this is a court case with clear political motives, which has nothing to do with the rule of law. And, as with most court cases in Turkey, there are allegations of terrorism: “More than 700,000 people have been charged with alleged terrorist propaganda.”

Erdogan’s system is collapsing

Supporters of the Turkish president are shrinking, including the AKP party. Turkey is internationally isolated. In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has plunged the country into a deep crisis. Not only are intellectuals leaving Erdogan’s state, but the slump in the Turkish pound has not stopped. At the same time, relations between Athens and Ankara have deteriorated, while the conflict between the two countries is mainly taking place on the backs of refugees and immigrants.

However, Brussels and the EU insist that Turkey is a safe third country for refugees. And for this reason, Athens is resorting to increasingly harsh and often illegal tactics to prevent people from seeking asylum on Greek soil. At the same time, the two countries accuse each other of using refugees for propaganda purposes.

There are currently four to five million migrants and refugees in Turkey. “Political problems at home lead to a corresponding increase in aversion to them:” People in Turkey are not at all happy with the presence of all these immigrants, “Ragip Duran confirms. And as he points out, Erdogan is trying to take advantage inside his country by publicly blaming the EU – for its failure to manage immigration and its dependence on Turkey: “Erdogan knows very well how to play with the fear of Europe. . He has made it clear many times in public: You must give me money, otherwise I will open the borders and let them all leave for Greece. He does not care about immigrants. He uses them for his own offensive interests. “

The Rotunda: Temple of worship in antiquity, later church, mosque during the Ottoman Empire… Today a World Heritage Site

Human rights and the rule of law at stake

Begim Basdas teaches at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and researches immigration. She has been criticizing the EU’s decision to recognize Turkey as a safe third country for years: “The human rights situation in Turkey is steadily deteriorating, both for the country’s citizens and for migrants and refugees,” she told DW. . According to the researcher, any public criticism of the government leads to arbitrary arrests and fabricated criminal charges, without access to a fair, independent judiciary. “Refugees, however, are not safe in Turkey for other reasons as well:” Asylum seekers who do not come from Council of Europe countries do not enjoy full international protection due to geographical restrictions in the Geneva Convention, “Basdas said. “Human rights organizations also report the deportation of Syrians and Afghans back to their homelands, even though their lives there are in danger,” she said.

For her, one thing is certain: the EU’s failure on immigration policy is increasingly leading to more anti-democratic and xenophobic attitudes in Turkey. “Political leaders have targeted immigrants and refugees. “They no longer live only in fear of deportation, but are in immediate danger of being attacked on a daily basis,” Basdas said. He also warned of the consequences for the EU itself if Brussels continued to ignore human rights: “This leads to a breach of basic EU principles on the protection of people, reinforcing far-right rhetoric in Europe as well.”

DW: Florian Smith / Chryssa Vachtsevanou

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