To be a Chechen Refugee in Turkey…
“Yeni Aktuel”, a Turkish magazine, published a long article in issue number 231. The article has covered the problems of Chechen refugees in Turkey.
As a result of Russia’s repressions and persecutions in Chechnya, these Chechens took shelter in Turkey because they see Turkey as a brother country. However, they continue their lives under difficult conditions in Turkey.
They have neither “citizenship” or “refugee status” here and they are just called “guests”. For this reason, they fight with problems of education, health and working rights, as well as housing difficulties.
Right now, there are three non-official Chechen refugee camps in Istanbul, Turkey. They are located in the Beykoz, Fenerbahce and Umraniye districts of the city. Around 500 Chechen refugees live in these camps. Many of the Chechen children in the camps were born in Turkey. However, they do not have any identification papers. The world of these children is limited by the walls of these camps.
Beykoz Chechen Refugee Camp
The camp is located in Tokatkoy area, one of the back roads of the Beykoz district in Istanbul. A group of older men with their fur hats welcomes us in front of the Sultan Aziz Mosque, which is near the camp. They invite us inside the camp to explain the problems that have continued for the last 10 years.
It is an apartment building. While we were climbing the stairs, children run around the ramshackle stairs. While we are taking photos, the adult residents of the building hide behind the doors, but the children are not shy to our camera, but they do have puzzled looks in their eyes.
Akhmad Mizaev, head of the camp, says that earlier the situation in the camp was terrible. But now, the Beykoz Municipality started construction inside of the camp. They do not know when it will be finished, but they are happy about it. When it is finished, at least they will have decent flats after all these years.
One resident of the camp is really an uncommon person. His name is Abubakar Magomadov. He has been a member of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria Parliament since 1997. In the late 1990’s, he worked as head of the National Security and Defense Committee. Also, he was commander of a military group which fought against Russia in the beginning of the Second Russian-Chechen war in 1999. For this reason, he is one of the Chechen people who have been blacklisted by Russia. Today he is 61 year old. He complains that he cannot find a job and cannot t earn money to live. He explains that he knows Abdullah Gul, the President of Turkey, from his mission in Strasbourg. In those days, they shared their office, but today he is also clueless about the problems of Chechen refugees in Turkey. Mr. Magomadov speaks about their problems: no working permission, no health insurance and no education for their children. “Until when will it continue like now? As I know, all the states in the world have similar laws. In five years you can obtain citizenship or refugee status; or they extradite you. The Turkish government does not let us to leave for Europe, but at the same time they do not provide us with humane living conditions. They must solve our problems and realize that when they ignore our situation, the problems grow more and more every day,” said Mr. Magomadov.
We asked Abubakar Magomadov whether he thinks about going back to Chechnya. The answer that we receive is shocking: “Now the situation in Chechnya is more dangerous than the first days of the war. A puppet government ruling the country. They say to Russia, ‘We are more Russian than you.’ The people who fought against Russia are abducted. Everyday 5 or 10 people are missing. There is an active search warrant for me because of my political and military situation. Thus, if I go back Chechnya, they will grab me.”
Umraniye Chechen Refugee Camp
This camp is located in a hospice under Halil-ur-Rakhman Mosque in the Umraniye district of Istanbul. The living conditions are worse than Beykoz. The rooms are around 20 meters square and 7 or 8 people live in a room. The toilets and baths are common for the whole camp. Adem Taysumov, head of the camp, shows us around and explains their similar problems. He points out that the reason for all of their problems is that they do not have official status.
When we were leaving the camp, some boxes full of clothes stood out. According to the residents of the camp, these are old clothes which were given by helpful people. The people share these clothes and if there is more than needed, they wash and sell them at a street bazaar. In this way, each family in the camp can earn 30-40 Turkish liras (15-20 Euros) in a month.
A Chechen Refugee Camp by the Sea: Fenerbahce
This refugee camp is located between one of most luxurious districts in Istanbul. The camp is situated between a Military Officers’ Club on the left and a marina on the right. The camp may have one of the best views in Istanbul. It was originally a holiday camp for Turkish Rail Road workers, but it has been used for Chechen refugees since 2000.
While we were walking in this manigficient city, suddenly a blue door, labeled “Chechen Camp,” faced us. When we got inside the door, a group of children welcomed us between scratchy sheds and nylon tents.
Along with similar problems to other camps, the strong wind which comes from the sea and dense moisture create bigger problems. Each shed is around 10-15 square meters. Also, they do not have a heating system here.
The Common Main Problems of Chechen Refugees in Turkey:
Working Permit: The biggest problem of the Chechen refugees in Turkey is that they cannot work and cannot earn money. Young people rarely find daily or weekly jobs. Even so, employers pay less money for Chechens than Turkish workers, it is about a 50% difference.
Health: They do not have any official status and for this reason they cannot go to the hospital or receive medication.
Education: The children can go to school until the end of high school, but they continue their education as “guest students”. This means that they cannot receive diplomas.
Passport: Many of them would like to go European countries but their passports have expired, thus they cannot move anywhere. Even if they could manage to extend their passports, they might have problems in the airports because Turkish border guards would demand ridiculous payments for their illegal residence in Turkey throughout the years.
*Text was translated by Waynakh Online and edited by Michael Capobianco