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News 18 Oct 16

Bulgaria Says Turkish Deportees Never Sought Asylum

Seven Turkish citizens were deported after entering Bulgaria illegally, but police said they never sought political asylum, despite Turkish media reports claiming they were supporters of wanted cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Mariya Cheresheva
BIRN
Sofia
Svetoslav Manolov . Photo: Bulgarian Interior Ministry Press Centre.

The seven Turkish citizens were arrested by a joint Bulgarian-Romanian border patrol while trying to cross the Danube from Bulgaria to Romania on October 14 hidden in a cargo vehicle, the deputy director of the Bulgarian border police, Svetoslav Manolov, said on Tuesday.

Manolov said that the Turks, who have been detained for 24 hours in the northern Bulgarian city of Ruse, told the police they were planning to go to Western Europe and work there, and nоne of them have claimed political asylum.

A criminal investigation has only been launched against the truck driver, while the Turkish citizens were handed over to the Turkish authorities on October 15, according to a readmission agreement between Turkey and the EU which has been in force since 2014.

Manolov gave a briefing to the media after Turkish media reported on Monday that seven men with suspected links to the movement led by the US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara accuses of staging the failed coup in Turkey earlier this year, have been deported from Bulgaria to Turkey after giving testimonies.

After they arrived in Turkey, Turkish police found that arrest warrants had been issued for the men on multiple charges, Hurriyet newspaper reported. 

Turkish police have identified the suspects as dismissed police chiefs Yunus D., Abdülkadir Ç. and Uğur S., academic Yunus Hayri Y. from Malatya İsmet İnönü University, former Zaman Osmaniye newspaper correspondent Fethi A., dismissed science teacher Soner Ö., and Ömer Ö., who had a criminal records for selling drugs. 

Someone claiming to be the son of one of the men has meanwhile sent an anonymous letter to Bulgarian media condemning the deportation of his father.

“Last Friday night, at 7.30pm, he sent us a message informing us he was in Bulgaria, where he was to stand trial… He called again this morning, telling us he was in Turkey and was about to arrive in Istanbul and stand trial there as well. Ever since then, we haven’t been able to contact him at all. We have no clue where he is right now and we fear for his safety,” the man said in the letter which was made public on October 17.

“It boggles the imagination that my father could have possibly been extradited to the unlawfulness-plagued country that Turkey has turned into… I would have presumed that Bulgaria could not have proceeded with my father’s case without due process of law,” said the letter, which was written in English.

Manolov however told journalists that the police had been obliged to start deportation proceedings because the Turkish men did not claim asylum.

“The persons in question could not prove they entered Bulgaria legally,” he said.

He added that the seven men had been given a translator during their 24-hour detention, but did not make it clear whether they had an access to a lawyer.

Neither did he know whether the representatives of NGOs or of the state Ombudsman’s office were present at the deportation, as the law stipulates.

The case comes several months after Bulgaria covertly deported to Turkey Abdullah Buyuk, a supporter of the wanted cleric Gulen, who had been denied asylum by the Bulgarian authorities.

Buyuk’s extradition was praised by the Turkish authorities but caused public outrage in Bulgaria, where it was seen as capitulation to the Erdogan government.

Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov admitted on August 13 that Buyuk’s extradition was “on the edge of the law”, but he justified this suggesting that it was important to maintain good relations with Ankara to prevent the risk of a massive refugee influx from Turkey.

“We must not allow the migrant wave to flood Bulgaria,” he said in an interview with NOVA TV.

Since the beginning of 2016, Bulgaria has deported 72 Turkish citizens following the readmission agreement between Turkey and the EU, the Bulgarian border police reported on Tuesday.  

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