Turkish 'psychological warfare' against Iranian Christians arrested and deported
Five families, totaling 17 people, were detained and sent to detention centers for repatriation. By Turkish authorities psychological violence to force refugees back. Families are split up, fathers are allowed to see their children once a week for 15 minutes. Videos of denunciation posted to social media.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) - Arrested, deported to "stay for repatriation" centers, victims of threats, violence and violations of basic human rights.
That's what happened to five Iranian Christian families - a total of 17 people - fleeing an Islamic Republic overwhelmed by the economic crisis and street protests over the killing of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini at the hands of morality police.
They were targeted by Turkish authorities who, as denounced by numerous international ngos, carry out systematic mistreatment and abuse against refugees: not only Syrians and Afghans, because now they are also targeting Iranians in a climate of growing intolerance that is likely to worsen in the run-up to the presidential elections in May.
Christian refugees, some of whom have been locked up for three months, speak of poor sanitary conditions in the detention centers, with lack of food, water and medicine.
According to the dissident website Article18, men are separated from women and children and are allowed to meet only once a week for a short time, maximum 15 minutes, in the presence of guards.
With the exception of one, an Assyrian Christian, they are all converts from Islam, which Tehran does not recognize and often persecutes because of their faith and for the crime of apostasy.
Most of them live in Isparta, southwestern Turkey, and are locked up in camps in the coastal town of Antalya, a two-hour drive away. However, arrests of Iranian Christians have been recorded in several cities over the past six months, including Izmir and Adyn in the west, Van in the east, and Kayseri and Kirikkale in the center of the country.
In some cases, the refugees themselves recorded videos denouncing the abuse they suffered and then shared them on social media, and those who helped spread the footage reportedly later received heavy threats from Turkish police.
One of the Christians detained in Antalya, Kamran Topa Ebrahimi, reports on the hunger strike spearheaded by some refugees in protest of conditions in the centers. "They separated me from my wife Mona and my two children," the man complains.
"They have launched," he adds, "a psychological war against us," threatening indefinite detention if we do not return. The wife speaks of the lack of water in the centers and the use of a garbage can as a makeshift means of personal hygiene.
"How can Turkey," she accuses, "deport us because we are Christians, they pretend not to know what is happening? This is psychological warfare against us to force us to sign our deportation forms." "The circumstances are so difficult that we would rather go to Iran and be killed," he adds, "than stay here.
Faranak Reziei, a Christian refugee of Kurdish descent, explains how she was arrested by Turkish authorities after changing her status on her Whatsapp profile to coincide with the end of the 40-day mourning period for Mahsa Amini's death.
"I don't know who, but someone leaked my story to the Turkish police and said I'm working with Turkish Kurds [PKK]," says Faranak, a single mother who was detained for 30 days, along with her daughter, who is only four years old.
Reza Pouti, pastor of the Iranian Freedom Church in Isparta, told Article18 that he personally met one of the deported Christians along with his wife and children before he was even able to sell property in Turkey.
"It is a prison," the religious leader denounced, "not only in the camps, but also outside, people live in fear" of even "opening the door" or "going to the street.
"From time to time," he continues, "they transfer asylum seekers to the camps by deception. I myself fear such a situation."
In fact, three weeks after sending the message Reza himself along with his wife Roshanak and young son Mohammadreza were taken into custody and sent to a center.