Amateur videos sent to the FRANCE 24 Observers team show police in Turkey stopping and questioning African migrants as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration. The videos, sent in by migrants from Senegal, Cameroon, Guinea and Angola, show officers shouting at the migrants and in some cases using physical violence against them. A Senegalese man seen in one of the videos being slapped by a police officer told the FRANCE 24 Observers he was in Turkey legally.
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Turkish authorities launched the crackdown at the beginning of July. Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said in an published July 9 that fighting illegal immigration is one of his main priorities, and that police in Istanbul and all of Turkey’s 81 provinces were intensifying their efforts to stop and detain people in the country illegally.
In Istanbul, police on July 4 started a series of evening and nighttime sweeps focusing on entertainment venues and public spaces. They reported in the first week on suspicion of entering Turkey illegally, working without authorisation, or overstaying their visas.
Videos sent to The Observers by African migrants living in Turkey suggest that the police conduct is often violent and discriminatory.
One video sent by migrants from Senegal and Guinea shows the police pinning down an African man in the middle of a crowd. The officers were not wearing uniforms, but they had handcuffs on them. The victim asked for his phone several times which angered the policeman holding him down. The officer shouted at him and then slapped him.
في إطار الحملة الأمنية المشددة على المهاجرين الغير شرعيين في إسطنبول،أفراد من المديرية العامة للأمن التركي يقبضون على شاب أفريقي في أكسراي ويهينونه أشد الإهانات رغم قوله بأن معه إقامة صالحة ولكن لم يشفع له ذلك
ندين ونستنكرهذا الفعل الشنيع والغير أخلاقي ولا إنساني
— 🇹🇩إسحاق عبدالرحمن (@issagaadarmani)
In this video, sent by African migrants to the France 24 Observers via WhatsApp and also posted on Twitter, a Senegalese hair salon owner is seen being slapped by a Turkish police officer after being stopped for an immigration check. The Senegalese man told the France 24 Observers his residency permit was being renewed.
The incident took place in Istanbul on July 19. By using Google Maps imagery, the Observers team managed to determine that it took place at the entrance to the underground mall AVM. Several Western African migrants living in Istanbul confirmed the location.
The surrounding neighbourhood, Aksaray, is known for the abundance of African-run clothes shops and markets.
‘Every time policemen see me they ask for my papers’
The Observers team managed to identify and contact the man seen in the video: Mohamed Preira is originally from Senegal, he moved to Turkey in 2019 and now owns a hair salon in Aksaray. He said he was on his way to his salon when he was stopped by the police. He told them he did not have a residency permit on him because it was being renewed.
They took my phone, my money. They put me in a car and drove me to a spot where they let me go. Even they themselves know that they don’t have the right to arrest me. I can’t even file a complaint against them.
I filed my documents [to renew my residency status] and I was given a receipt. I am in the process of getting the documents so I have the right to live here.
It’s not the first time I’ve been stopped. Every time policemen see me they ask for my papers. But these policemen were just racist. Now my whole body hurts.
I have my own hair salon in Istanbul. I pay my rent. But they still harass me. It’s gotten worse. There are more and more check-ups. Now I’m thinking of going back to Senegal. Living in another country without peace, without money, it’s too hard.
The Observers received multiple videos showing the use of force by the police. One of the videos, also posted on Twitter, shows two uniformed policemen holding an African migrant while a third officer can be seen pushing his head downwards. As they walk him away, the third policeman apparently mocks the victim, clapping in his face.
Several African migrants told The Observers that the incident took place in the Esenyurt neighbourhood of Istanbul. Satellite imagery appears to confirm the location, but the FRANCE 24 Observers team was unable to contact the man who was detained.
‘We were treated like criminals for not having the papers they refused to give us’
In November 2022 a report by found that migrants detained in Turkey without papers were often held in overcrowded detention centres, with inadequate access to legal support and their families.
“Cédric,” a Cameroonian man who spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers on condition of anonymity, was arrested in Istanbul in December 2022 while awaiting an update of his residency status. He provided the following account:
There were 12 of us being held in rooms designed for six people. We were supposed to have the right to talk to our families, but they took our phones. The conditions were horrible. I saw a lot of suicides. We were treated like criminals for not having the papers they refused to give us. They don’t let you have your own lawyers. They only allow you to see their lawyers.
Cédric said he was allowed to leave the centre after two months and was given a document that only allowed him to live in Bartin, a small town 400km from Istanbul. But he didn’t stay: “There were no opportunities there and the people were racist, so I went back to Istanbul.”
‘Migrants of all nationalities face many human rights violations’
Mahmut Kaçan, a Turkish lawyer specialised in migration, says the country’s immigration system has become more restrictive in the past two years.
For the past two years, whether you are a regular or an irregular migrant, asylum applications have not been accepted.
In the past few years, and during the [May 2023] elections there has been a debate. The current government as well as the opposition claim that they will deport all refugees.
Migrants of all nationalities face many human rights violations. I receive such complaints but since they are not properly registered, they are not able to file complaints and contact NGOs.
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