On August 28-29, Almaty hosted a conference dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR). Turkmen human rights activists also spoke at it. Tajigul Begmedova, Chairman of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, took part in the meeting dedicated to the problems of minorities, including migrants.
Tajigul Begmedova: There is an audience that is not aware of the specifics of this issue, as I will be talking about Turkmen migrants abroad, especially in Turkey. It so happened that the Turkmen consulates abroad, unlike many consulates of other states, did not exchange old passports for new ones for their citizens, did not extend the validity of many other documents.
Because of this, unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of illegal Turkmen migrants gathered in Turkey, who faced a very acute problem and found themselves in a vicious circle. This was especially intensified during the pandemic, when Turkmenistan completely closed the borders, although it did not recognize such a problem as COVID - 19, and did not let anyone into Turkmenistan. In this connection, our citizens were not able to visit their homeland, at least in order to change their passports.
Moreover, Turkmen citizens who travel to their homeland (the borders have now been opened) to obtain a document face the problem of restrictions on freedom of movement. They are not allowed to travel back to some other country, for example to Turkey. This hits hard on their social status, since, as you know, unemployment in Turkmenistan is very high, although the authorities are hushing up about it. Because of what, Turkmen citizens go abroad in search of work. They agree to do the most menial work, and even the minimum money earned abroad helps them to support their family, parents, brothers, sisters, etc.
Unemployment has led to a protest movement in Turkey over the past 2-3 years, when young people began to speak openly about the issue of freedom of movement, and because of this they faced persecution from the Turkmen authorities. There is surveillance, recruitment, threats, both on the migrants themselves and on their relatives in Turkmenistan. There is only one demand: to stop criticizing the regime.
Although, this problem can be solved with one stroke of the pen. You know that renewing a passport does not take long, just like printing a new document. But, unfortunately, the Turkmen authorities: firstly, hush up this problem; secondly, they ignore all calls; thirdly, they persecute those who turn to them for help.
Exactly one year ago, on August 16, young Turkmen people went to the consulate in Istanbul with a letter to the new president, who was elected that same year. Assuming he is unaware of the above mentioned issues. With a 1-page sheet, asking him to pay attention to the situation. They faced ill-treatment from consular officials who beat Turkish human rights activists, lawyers and Turkmen activists.
The layering of problems has led young people to feel left out. No one reacted to their appeal, as expected. The well-known events in Ukraine have led to the fact that the problem of Turkmen migrants has moved into a corner and people feel the hopelessness of their situation. Those who have found the courage to speak about it feel a certain tiredness: “How much can we say - no one hears us?!“
Human rights activists wrote appeals, letters to the appropriate authorities, but there was no answer. Unfortunately, the Turkish government, at the request of the Turkmen consulate, does not allow Turkmens to hold rallies or meetings. It files complaints with the police with unsubstantiated accusations of extremism or some other terrible things that is why the police come and detain these people.
Maybe this meeting will be an impetus for solving this problem, so we suggest: firstly, Turkmen consulates abroad need to start issuing passports to their citizens. Secondly, unfortunately, in Turkey, as well as in other countries, many Turkmen citizens were buried, who could not be taken back to their homeland. This is a very painful topic faced by the relatives of the deceased. The tragic events, when 57 Turkmen citizens were poisoned in 2020, plus the February earthquake, claimed the lives of many Turkmen citizens. Among the dead were Turkmens who had no documents, which made it impossible to recognize their identity. It is proposed to organize the repatriation of the dead. Thirdly: unfortunately, in Turkey, as in Russia, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has withdrawn itself. There are no other effective mechanisms yet, that is why Turkmen civil activists have difficulties in obtaining a document under international auspices.
Moderator, Dmitry Nurumov: We still have time, and using this I would like to ask you a question. The situation that develops with passports abroad, there are quite a lot of families, naturally, citizens of Turkmenistan, being outside the country, give birth to children. What is the situation with obtaining a birth certificate, not to mention passports, in these families where children are born: for example, in Turkey.
Tajigul Begmedova: I will give one example, Zarina Akhtyamova. She had a second child, there in Turkey. She took a certificate from the maternity hospital, applied to the consulate, and they did not give her a birth certificate for the child, they said go to Turkmenistan. Firstly, she does not have her own document to go to Turkmenistan; secondly, she explains to them: “I have small children, I cannot leave them, there is no one to leave them, and I cannot leave with the baby either, because after the maternity hospital a woman must stay at home for at least 40 days.”
She had a big scandal with our consulate. There are other cases where consulates did not issue birth certificates to children born abroad. According to some sources, there are about 800 thousand Turkmens in Turkey, according to other sources, the figure is 2 million. According to official figures from the Turkish government, there are 230,000 legal Turkmens on its territory. Undoubtedly, migrants marry, create families, and have children. There are cases when a child in a family cannot go to school because the parents and the child do not have documents. There is a case when a woman admitted that she applied to the consulate several times and only after giving a bribe she was able to obtain the necessary document. This suggests that consulates are able to issue documents without sending citizens home. But they do it only in a gray scheme. That is, this situation breeds corruption, and violations of rights grow like a snowball.
Thank you for your attention.
Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights