“Everyone has the right to leave every country, including his own, and to return to his own country,” states the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Is this so? Let’s try to figure it out using the example of Turkmen citizens in Turkey.
Since Turkey introduced a visa regime for Turkmen citizens, the question “why does Ankara play games organized by Ashgabat” remains relevant. I spoke about the fact that this step discriminates against our citizens at the OSCE-ODHR meeting in Warsaw in the fall of 2022. In addition, the THF report “The introduction of a visa regime for Turkmens to Turkey has caused new problems” is about this.
There is undoubtedly discrimination against Turkmen in comparison with their neighbors from Turkic-speaking countries (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), whose citizens have the right to enter Turkey without a visa for a period of 30 to 90 days, depending on the country. Turkmens also had a similar right and could stay there for up to 90 days, but since last year, at the insistence of Ashgabat, Turkey introduced a visa regime.
Let's take a closer look at how this decision is being implemented. Currently, according to an insider's observation, the «Gateway International» visa center issues approximately one visa per 10 people. The visa is valid for one year, during which a Turkmen citizen can visit Turkey. Moreover, the period is limited to 15 or 30 days. In case of refusal, the visa applicant has no way of knowing the reasons.
Difficulties in obtaining a visa are taken advantage of by various types of scammers who offer their services for fabulous commissions. At the same time, having often taken an advance payment or the full amount, scammers disappear without a trace.
Residents of Turkmenistan complain about the excessive cost of services and extortion from both migration service officials and «Gateway International» visa center intermediaries. The other day, a man who left Turkmenistan said that he “spent more than $2,000 to leave the country. In addition, already at the airport you may be unreasonably and categorically not allowed to board your flight.” Several people told him how after this, employees of various departments approached them and offered to help them board the plane for a certain bribe. Moreover, for some reason the amount of the bribe depends on the age of a passenger.
Has the «Gateway International» center in Ashgabat actually reduced the time limits for issuing visas? There is no information about this on their website. True, there is evidence that the cost of visas has increased 2-3 times compared to October. For example, the cost of a single-entry visa increased from 60 to 200 dollars, multiple - from 190 to 370 dollars; single transit from 60 to 200 dollars, double transit from 120 to 280 dollars. It is not written anywhere for how many days these visas are issued, i.e. «Gateway International» provides services on the principle of “selling a pig in a poke.”
It is also impossible to find out on the website of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs for how long a Turkmen citizen has the right to visit. The Turkmenistan section only states: “Ordinary passport holders must have a visa to enter Turkey.” However, the length of stay these visas are issued for is not specified.
As for visas issued by Turkmenistan itself, duration of stay and cost, I recommend going to the corresponding websites of Turkmen embassies in the USA, Germany, Russia, Great Britain, China, Turkey, Japan. But the consulates at the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Italy, Austria, Afghanistan, France do not indicate either the types of visas issued or their cost.
Obtaining biometric passports.
Meanwhile, there are reports from Turkmenistan that local migration services are delaying the issuance of biometric passports. In particular, Radio Liberty drew attention to this.
This is especially evident in Lebap province, where huge queues have recently begun to accumulate at the migration department. It got to the point that when submitting documents to receive a passport, visitors began to be given tickets for the queue with a date right up to the end of April or the beginning of May. Previously, a completed document could be received within 15 - 30 days.
On February 17, Radio Liberty reported that “the state migration service of Turkmenistan has temporarily stopped issuing biometric passports to citizens. Radio Liberty was informed about this by two employees of the migration service department for the Balkan province. This information, neither confirmed nor denied officially, appeared against the backdrop of an increase in the number of citizens wishing to obtain biometric passports to leave Turkmenistan.”
Rumors that it had become difficult to obtain a biometric passport and obtain a visa in Turkmenistan quickly spread. Now migrants prefer not to go home to get documents, but to remain in the host country illegally.
Regarding the introduction of a visa regime, experts are unanimous - for the sake of geopolitical interests, Turkey made concessions to Turkmenistan and abolished the visa-free regime for Turkmens.
Regarding the issuance of documents: why don’t Turkmen consulates issue biometric passports, as is done in many countries around the world? According to numerous reports, the Turkmen rightly link this issue with corruption. To paraphrase the old communist slogan: “when we say Turkmenistan, we mean corruption, when we say corruption, we mean Turkmenistan.”
And one last thing. The Turkmen government loves to talk about digital technologies and e-government. Let's take the websites of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Migration Service of Turkmenistan. On both sites it is impossible to obtain any information useful for citizens about the performance of the direct functions of the ministry and departments.
Annadurdy Khadzhiev, human rights activist