“I, Ahmed Rakhmanov, would like to share with you how Turkmen citizens are suffering abroad because of the Turkmen regime. I am staying in Turkey. My passport had a stamp and QR code valid until 31st December 2022. On 8th October, I submitted documents to the migration service in Antalya, to obtain a residence permit. I was told that they will call me in two or three days.
However, 10 days have passed and I still haven't received any calls. On 18th of October at 11 am, I went to the mi gration service myself. I was kept there for more than two hours, although, the entire application procedure takes around 15-20 minutes maximum. If the application is rejected, the person must leave the country within 10 days.
It turned out that the immigration officer called the police. He was taking his time, pretending to be busy checking my documents. The police arrived and captured me and a woman who is a citizen of Kyrgyzstan. It appeared that they have dealt with this kind of case for the first time and they constantly called someone asking what to do next.
First, they took me for a medical examination. They performed general health check and to see if there were any signs of bruises or injuries on my body. After making sure that everything was in order, they took me to the police station where I was asked of the reason I violated the visa regime.
I explained that the reason being is that my passport had expired, and our consulate in Turkey does not issue new passports. At the same time, it was impossible to go to Turkmenistan and to apply for a new passport there. The state had introduced the quarantine and all flights to the country were cancelled. The police officers were surprised as they were very well aware that in other civilized countries such problem does not exist.
In the evening, after another medical examination, PCR test and fingerprinting, I was taken to a deportation center. It was situated outside the city of Antalya. The room I was placed in looked like a typical student dormitory in Turkey: large windows with bars. Each room has three bunk beds with old mattresses and pillows. There was also a citizen of Senegal in the room.
The first night was very cold. We asked for blankets but we were not given any. The deportation centre staff also refused to pass me clean, warm clothes and food that my wife brought. They said I am under a two-week quarantine and I cannot receive anything or go anywhere. I was not allowed to make a call. A 15-20 minutes daily walk took place in the corridor of the building. They did not take us out for some fresh air.
I would like to note one thing. Everyone who was in the police station was brought to the same deportation centre. These four people were: one citizen of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Senegal and myself. The three citizens mentioned above have been staying in Turkey illegally and never applied to obtain a residence permit. I was living in Turkey legally from 2016 to 2020. I obeyed all the laws and rules of the country, had a residence permit and a work visa.
Despite these facts, the three people were released the next day. However, on the second day, I was sent to the Istanbul deportation center in the Tuzla region.
I was transferred with another citizen of Turkmenistan. He was detained more than six months ago and during this time he was transferred to three deportation centers: in Tuzla, Bursa and Antalya.
They drove us in a minibus, accompanied by seven gendarmes. The minibus was followed by another car with two or three people inside it. We drove for about 10 hours. During the drive we were given only a sandwich with tomato and cheese. We were treated well, without handcuffs, but under a condition: to behave.
We arrived in Tuzla at dawn, it was not yet 5 am. We were kept outside and feeling very cold as we were dressed in light clothes. Sadly, nobody reacted to our request to take us to a warm premise.
After all the procedures with filling in the paperwork and fingerprinting, we were taken to a room. The rooms are containers stacked on top of each other in two floors. Stairs and railroad tracks are connected to the second floors.
The containers for detainees are equipped as follows: 3-4 bunk beds, a place for personal use next to the front door, a shower on one side, a toilet on the other, and a washstand in the middle. There is a football field in the yard, a shop and four telephone booths. To use the telephone booths, one need to buy a phone card in the shop. Cash or credit cards payments are accepted.
Gendarmes are in charge of keeping everything in order. They speak raising voice. We were told that there were occasions of physical violence by the gendarmes. Conflicts, especially with the citizens of Turkmenistan occurred due to the fact that the latter had a nervous wreck. Uncertainty oppressed the Turkmen. It seemed that they no longer cared whether they were released or deported. Most importantly, they wanted to be released as soon as possible, and uncertainty often led to a nervous breakdown. Most of the Turkmen citizens who were in the centre, were detained because they did not have a residence permit, which they could not obtain due to expired passports. As I mentioned above there was no option to apply for a new passport. At that time, one could enter into Turkmenistan only by giving a large bribe (about 3,000-3,500 dollars) to a consular officer or intermediaries. For most of Turkmen citizens such a large amount of money is not accessible.
The situation was aggravated further by the fact that most families in Turkmenistan depend on financial help from a relative working in Turkey. If the person loses his or hers job, then their relatives in Turkmenistan are left without a livelihood. On the top of losing their job, they also lose their rental place. Many of the detainees lost their rental apartments due missing rent payments. Some had their personal belongings thrown out into the street because there was no one to pick them up.
The man who shared the room with me was very worried about his pregnant wife and their little child. It appears that they lived in one of the violent areas of Istanbul.
Conditions of detention: daily walks were allowed for 20 minutes after each meal, in total of only one hour and no more. When any arrangements took place on the sports ground, the walk time was greatly reduced. Mainly, these arrangements were related to departure of Afghans, Pakistanis, Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, etc. Everyone witnessed that the issue of their presence in the deportation centre was resolved quicker compared to the issue with Turkmen citizens. The problem with Turkmens was not progressing at all and because of that the majority of Turkmen citizens had a nervous breakdown and were hysterical.
The administration of the centre knew about our moods. On the day of my arrival, I found out that before 22nd October, the issue with the citizens of Turkmenistan was meant to be resolved. Everyone was looking forward to this day. But on 21st October, an employee of the deportation centre said that the issue could not be resolved which caused a wave of dissatisfaction, resentment and disappointment among us.
On that day, during a walk, everyone agreed to go on a hunger strike. On 22nd October, the Turkmens refused to eat. In response, the administration announced that they would not allow daily walks until the hunger strike is ended. In our compartment, a riot began with screams and knocking out the bars. It went on for a very long time. The administration lifted the punishment. But the riot did not stop. Then the administration involved military personnel with shields and said that they would start taking us for a walk if everyone calmed down. But the riot did not subside.
The administration made a proposition to choose several representatives among us for negotiations. Seven people were chosen and the negotiations took place in the control interface room of the deportation centre. We were promised that by 30th October the issue would be resolved. The head of the deportation centre personally took on this responsibility. On 1st November, the ongoing issue was finally resolved:all Turkmens were released as the boarders to Turkmenistan were closed.
In spite of all the mentioned above, the issue of the legal residency status of Turkmen citizens in Turkey remains open. Firstly, the boarders are still closed. Secondly, the Turkmen consulate does not issue new passports, and the stamps that are used to extend a passport do not solve the problem. An extended 10-year old passport is not perceived as a complete document that can be used to get a residence permit or a visa in a foreign country. This is the reason that a large number of Turkmen citizens are deprived of their rights to work and medical care due to the inability to get insurance, etc. The Turkmen Officials of Ashgabat do nothing to improve the situation and to make life easier for its citizens in a foreign country.”
Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.