Eyewitness evidence. Part 1
I, Dursoltan Taganova was kept in a deportation center in Turkey for 85 days in 2020. There, I was one of hundreds of Turkmen citizens. Initially, for 75 days I was in Silivri deportation center in Istanbul. The remaining 10 days I spent in Kirklareli deportation center. Most of the Turkmen women were detained due to problems with documents that is the result of Turkmen bureaucracy. My compatriots did not have a legal status. It is impossible to get a residence permit and a work visa on the basis of an expired Turkmen passport. Within 10-15 days, from 30 to 40 Turkmen women were brought to the deportation center. Turkmen citizens in particular were the only ones that Turkish authorities could not deport to their homeland due to the closure of borders. However, citizens of other countries did not face the same issues.
The deportation center is a three-story building. About one hundred women were kept on each floor. There was one shared toilet and a shower on every floor. Time to take a shower was not limited. Each room accommodated around 8-10 women. There were bunk beds in the rooms.
Medical assistance is provided at any time, if necessary. When needed, women are taken to a hospital. A psychologist operates in the centre.
Twice a day, it was allowed to go to a shop located on the territory of the deportation centre. Using phones was permitted for 10 minutes after 20:00 on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. To make a call there are paid phone cards with limited minutes that are sold in the shop. There were instances when people did not have the opportunity to buy the phone cards. They asked the staff for help and were given the cards that intended for such cases. The schedule for the lawyer visits were on weekdays during working hours. Designated time to receive parcels was also according to the schedule: on Tuesday and Thursday.
Being at the center, convinced that Turkmens, unlike other citizens, have to go through more serious life hardships and all this is a result of Turkmen autocracy. In Silivri, there was an elderly woman, about 60-65 years old. She was brought there three or four times. Due to the fact that Turkmenistan did not organise sufficient repatriation flights, and the boarders were closed, she could not be deported. Therefore, after holding the woman in the deportation centre for a while, she was released. A few days later the same scenario happened again. She was out of her mind; it looked like it was some kind of mental illness. The woman was in a terrible state every time she was brought to the centre. She tore her clothes and relieved herself. The staff tried to place her in a nursing home, but there were no places.
The three meals a day provided in the deportation center of Istanbul were quite tolerable. The elderly woman mentioned above had mobility issues. Two Turkmen women brought her to the canteen, took her back to the room and put her to bed.
Women from other countries were not worried at all about their deportation, but the Turkmen women were very afraid. They knew that upon arrival in Turkmenistan, they will definitely have a stamp in their passports banning them to leave the country. As a result, their children could be left without food, since it is impossible to find work in Turkmenistan and provide for their families.
We were taken for a 30-minute daily walk. During the walk, to prevent women from falling into depression, the staff put on music. Citizens of other countries even danced to this music, but the Turkmen women gathered in a circle, sat desperate and silent. They often received bad news from home. Some women could not send money to their families, because they were detained. The news that their children had nothing to eat, drove them to despair. Some of the women’s children were sick. The Turkmen women cried from the hopeless situation.
During three months, consular officers of other countries visited their citizens several times and got acquainted with the conditions of their detention and also helped them to find a lawyer. The consulate of Turkmenistan has never visited its citizens. The Turkmen women received news about Turkmenistan from newly arrived Turkmens and always asked the same question: “Are flights to Turkmenistan resumed?”
In September 2021, when I was detained for the second time, there were about 35-40 Turkmen women in the deportation center. I was released the next day. When I was leaving the centre, the staff asked me the following question: “What country can women be send to once there is an order for their deportation?” I answered: “They cannot be send to any country, because many of them have expired passports and no country will accept the expired document.”
The deportation center is not a prison, and the conditions of detention here are tolerable, but still, many innocent Turkmen women cried from hopelessness and despair, seeing how unfairly their own state treats them. I often cried too.
Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.