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Eleven Tibetans remain under house arrest in Turkey

February 17, 2014

By Lobsang Wangyal

February 11, 2014 - Eleven Tibetans have been detained in Turkey for two and half years, without knowing what is in their future.

The eleven men, between the ages of 25 and 45, are under house arrest at Kastamonu in the north of the country. They share one small room which is their entire world for now. They fetch water from outside, and their lunch is provided for at a mosque.

They landed at Istanbul Atatürk Airport on 4 August 2011 from Kathmandu, Nepal, where they had recently arrived from Tibet. In Istanbul they were arrested on charges of holding fake visa and travel documents, and detained at the airport for a month.

They say that they had paid 1,500 USD each to an agent in Kathmandu to bring them to a European country in the hope they could find a better life.

“Our lives in Tibet were not easy. We didn’t have freedom or any opportunities,” the group said in a communication with Tibet Sun.

Eight of them are married and have children. As they continue to be under house arrest, they live also under the stress of being unable to communicate with close friends and family members. Knowing that their families are worried about them adds to this.

In addition to the lunch from the nearby mosque, they have been cooking their own breakfast and dinner using a charcoal stove. They have not been getting a good diet from their meals due to financial constraints.

“We are very grateful to all the staff at the mosque for our lunch,” the group’s note to Tibet Sun said.

They are not allowed to earn a living and have to confine themselves mostly to their small dingy room. Due to the lack of proper diet and sanitation, and the fumes from the charcoal, most of them have health issues.

Each time that they go out of the compound, which can only be for essentials such as hospital or office visit, they have to get permission from the police. Being “outsiders”, they don’t make any connection with local people, contributing to their isolation. When they are at hospitals or offices there is a communication problem, as they all speak only Tibetan.

At one time, there were refugees there from Bangladesh and Burma. These refugees began to speak about the conflict between the Buddhists and the Muslims in Burma, and that created tension for them as well.

The situation is delicate and they are feeling insecure about their lives.

Calls for help

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees issued a certificate to all of them on 1 February 2013, giving each recognition as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, following to its mandate.

The certificate stated: “As a refugee, (he/she) is a person of concern to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and should, in particular, be protected from forcible return to a country where (he/she) would face threats to his or her life or freedom.”

A communication from the group said, “We approached the Kashag and the minister of DIIR Dickki Choyyang [for] a month. So far we haven’t received any reply.”

The group has also contacted the Tibetan representatives in Geneva and in New York. They received replies saying they were trying something — but it has been one year with no follow-up.

“We have already sent them a petition with our documents issued by UNCHR. They said they would try to help but there has been no result so far.”

Unofficial help has came to them from Ms Brigitte von Bulow, founding director of the the group UNFFT (United Nations for a Free Tibet), a global network of people supporting Tibet. She has been helping with a little funds from time to time.

In a communication with Brigitte, the group wrote: “We never forget what you did for us and I am again here on behalf of eleven Tibetans appealing you to help us for our financial assistance if you can. Our situation is worse then before and we can’t get any work to do.

“Actually we don’t want to bother you again but we are in very bad situation. Really sorry.”

Hard journeys

Normally refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq in Turkey are processed and sent to the US, Canada, or a European country after a year or so.

“We have been in Turkey for almost three years now. We do not know how much longer we will be here, but we feel that it will be many more years before our case is taken up for a solution.”

“We cannot go back to Tibet, as we were all political prisoners there.”

The group is desperately hoping for someone to take charge of their case and help them get to some safe country.

There are unconfirmed reports of other Tibetan refugees facing similar problems after paying lots of money to travel agencies who promise safe passage to United States, Canada, and European countries. Some of these refugees have faced worse hardships such as rape and disappearance.

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