Edirne, the Island of harshness and terror
By: Farshad Hosseini, Executive Director of the International Federation of Iranian Refugees
Turkey is one of the main and most important rout and transit for Asian, Middle Eastern and North-African asylum seekers. Every year, thousands of asylum seekers who seek a safe shelter and who are fleeing all sorts of political and societal aggressions in their own countries, head toward Turkey and through the western frontiers of Turkey try to reach Europe. Western frontiers of Turkey are severely controlled and many of these asylum seekers who are not able to pass the frontiers end up being entrapped by the security police of the frontier.
The prison of Edirne is one of the concentration camps that keep the arrested asylum seekers of Edrine’s area. Based on verbal reports obtained through telephone from eye witnesses and arrested refugees in Edrine, although the prison has a capacity of 150 prisoners, most of the time it detains between 500 to 700 refugees. Refugees are from countries such as Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Afghanistan and South-East Asia. Conditions and standards of living are extremely low and poor and are even beyond the regular standards of ordinary prisons.
In an interview that I had with Azadeh a female Iranian asylum seeker who is detained since few months ago in Edrine’s prison, she says:
“The situation is deplorable here. Corridors are full of refugees. Overcrowding has become such that at some point guards have forced the male prisoners of the upper level to move to another prison, beating them harshly to leave that section, only to add and keep more female prisoners in this section. When two nights ago, one of the male refugees cut his jugular vein with a blade, prisoners started to shout and ask for help but nobody came to the rescue. Prisoners were kicking the door so firmly that the whole prison was trembling. Yesterday morning, again, to protest against his condition, another refugee cut his jugular vein. Police came and instead of rescuing him or taking him to the emergency, beating him with punches and kicks and savagely threw them on him beating him. Blood was running in the corridor. This place should not be called a prison for a prison is a much better place. This is a slaughterhouse”.
I asked one of the refugee prisoners regarding the legal process of their detention and access to legal resorts for their defense. ” The only thing that does not exist here is law and rights. Here only money and aggression reigns. If you have money for bribery you will have a better condition and more rights. Otherwise you are condemned to accept the most inhuman living conditions. No legal authority acts here. This is an island of aggression where there is no such a thing as “rights”.
I asked Azadeh about the number of women and their conditions in the prison. She replied: “Right now 150 women are kept in our section while this section has the capacity for only 40 prisoners. For all the 150 women there is only one toilet and 2 showers, one of which is always out of order. The shower does not have a door. The line up for toilet is always very long. Sometimes we have to wait hours in the lineup. There are no warm water and we have to take shower with cold water. Right now in Turkey, the weather is very cold and taking shower with cold water is deadly. There is no ventilator here. It is 6 months that I haven’t seen the sun. Air pollution inside the prison, crowding and lack of sanitary measures have created a ground for occurrence of all sorts of dermatologic diseases among prisoners. There is no medical facility whatsoever. Here only if you are dying or if you have deep and serious wounds, you might get the chance to go to the hospital. Nutritional conditions are worse than all. For the whole time that I have been here, I have always had the same meal. Breakfast is composed of a piece of stale and left over bread, a very little piece of cheese and milk both of which are outdated and rotten in 80% of time. Lunch is composed of a piece of bread and two small pieces of rotten jambon, and dinner is also composed of a piece of bread and two tiny slices of dry sausage. Twice a week we have the so-called “hot meal” which is a kind of soup that is only water. Crowding is so that 3 of us share one bed. Most the women have no blanket and no sheet. Children are also detained here along with their mothers and have to follow the fate of their mothers. There is no exception; they have to tolerate the same deplorable conditions.”
Azadeh added: “Right now there are 4 women among us who are eight months pregnant. There is no medical help available to them. They even do not have warm clothing and are in a deplorable condition. Whenever we ask for some help to these pregnant women, the authorities answer: “We didn’t invite them here. They have come by themselves and they have to suck it up!”
The guards have extremely inhuman behavior and treat us with the most indecent ,abusive and sexual insults which in many instances have elicited the anger and protest of the prisoners, but every time, these protests have been suppressed by beating and by using force.
I contacted one of the prisoners of the men’s section in Edirne. Alireza is a refugee who has been detained in Edirne’s prison since 7 months ago. With a dull and tottering voice he said: “We are 300 men in this prison. This prison has a capacity for 120 men. There is only one ventilator in the whole section and there is little air coming into the section. Many people smoke here and the air are extremely polluted here. Many prisoners sleep in the corridors, most of the time on bare floor and the luckiest have a plastic sheet to put underneath.
The conditions of toilets and showers are as bad as in women’s section. We have 4 showers, one of which is out of order and the 3 remaining are giving service to 300 men! Apart from coldness of the water and low water pressure, the main issue is that the sewage system of the bathrooms is not working and every time that anybody takes shower, water inundates the corridors. Therefore there is constant humidity and damp which has created all sorts of rheumatic and dermatologic diseases among us.”
Regarding the legal situation of these refugees Alireza continued:” the only organization that investigates refugee problems is the UN High Commissioner for refugees and unfortunately this is a very long and slow process and until you haven’t received a refugee status from UNHCR you have to live in this Hell.
The prison of Edirne, based on the above-mentioned news and also based on reports obtained from eye witnesses, lacks the least standards of a regular prison. These conditions should be changed. The human rights Commission of the European Union and other local or international organizations should allocate special attention to this prison and should send a special and independent committee to perform a complete and detailed study on the conditions of these prisoners and should put pressure on the Turkish government to ameliorate the conditions of its prisons, notably the Edirne prison.
On the other hand, based on international rules of engagement, detaining refugees and asylum seekers is illegal. Under no circumstance and with no excuse the Turkish government has the right to detain refugees and asylum seekers. All the imprisoned refugees should be freed immediately and the Turkish government should guarantee that it will not detain refugees.
Urgent appeals to the Turkish government
1- Turkish government should free all the imprisoned refugees and asylum seekers.
2- Every prisoner in these prisons should have the right to have access to a gratuitous lawyer to be able to follow his/her judicial process and come out of prison. Imprisoned refugees should have information regarding the judicial and legal process of their case.
3- All female refugees should be freed immediately and be treated for their medical issues.
4- A committee should be formed to continuously control the Edirne’s prison. This committee is responsible to regularly check the capacity, conditions and standards of the prison.
Urgent appeals to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
1- The UNHCR should put a priority in reviewing the files of Edirne asylum seekers prisoners in Turkey and take serious measures regarding the request of these prisoners concerning refugee status.
2- The UNHCR should officially ask the Turkish Internal Ministry and Justice Ministry to free all the imprisoned refugees and asylum seekers of this prison until the process of their case as refugee is completed.
3- The UNHCR is responsible to provide all the Edirne’s imprisoned refugees with appropriate medical treatment.
4- The UNHCR should give priority to female refugee cases and pay special attention on their refugee status.
The International Federation of Iranian Refugees (IFIR) will put all its efforts to obtain tangible results regarding these claims. We will broadcast this report and the claims to all responsible organizations and international assemblies for human rights. We are asking UNHCR to send an inspection committee to this prison and we will follow up on these claims until they are addressed.
For more ifnormation, go to the site of the International Federation of Iranian Refugees.