Burmese authorities have forced back Turkish asylum seeker, Muhammet Furkan Sökmen via Thailand, putting him at risk of serious human rights violations, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on June 1.
“To make it clear they will not further violate international law, Burma and Thailand should immediately announce that they will provide UN agencies with access to conduct assessments of protection needs of any Turkish nationals wanted by Ankara, and not return to Turkey anyone determined to be a refugee,” HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams said.
“Burma and Thailand flagrantly violated Furkan Sökmen’s human rights by caving in to pressure from Ankara and deporting him despite his claim for asylum and the real risk of ill-treatment and an unfair trial in Turkey,” Adams added.
The former director of a now-defunct, Rangoon-based international school, established by the followers of the Gulen movement, Sökmen was reportedly arrested at Yangon International Airport on May 24. At the request of Turkish authorities, he was allegedly deported to Turkey via Thailand. In Thailand, he was held at an immigration detention center for 24 hours before being deported to Turkey on May 26.
“The deportation of Sökmen went ahead even after the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and other UN agencies had informed key Burmese and Thai government agencies that there were substantial grounds to believe that he would face an imminent risk of human rights abuse upon his return to Turkey,” HRW said.
Sökmen was detained at Istanbul Ataturk Airport and was taken to a police station for interrogation, on May 27. He called for “help from the world” in a video recording he posted on social media minutes before he was handed over to Turkish authorities at Yangon International Airport by Myanmar police the other day.
Forcing Sökmen back to where he is at risk of ill-treatment in custody without examining his claim for protection constitutes refoulement, the organization underlined.
“It is deeply alarming that both Burmese and Thai authorities prioritized showing deference to rights-violating demands from Turkey over respecting the bedrock principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits any government from returning an asylum seeker without examining his or her claim for protection,” Adams further added.
Turkey survived a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 people and wounded more than a thousand others. After the putsch, the government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused the Gülen group for the attempt. More than 120,000 people have been detained and some 50,000 arrested over links to the movement so far. Some claimed that they were subjected to torture in detention centers in Turkey.
President Erdoğan earlier called on foreign governments to punish Gülenists in their own countries. Only a few countries, including Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Georgia, seem to have complied with the request so far.