The British High Commission (BHC) — the equivalent of an embassy in countries that are members of the Commonwealth of Nations — in Bangladesh handed over nine passports of Turkish critics and their children to the Turkish Embassy in Dhaka, supporting a systematic witch hunt carried out by the Turkish government against some of its nationals living abroad, Nordic Monitor has learned.
Four educators who were working at the International Hope Schools in Dhaka, which is affiliated with the Gülen movement, a group critical of the Turkish government, and their five children applied to the BHC for UK visas at various times in 2017. When the wait was longer than expected, they requested the status of their applications and were told that their passports had been returned to the Turkish Embassy because they were no longer valid. Several calls as to why the BHC did not return the passports to their holders went unanswered.
Shocked and demoralized, some of the visa applicants managed to meet with David Ashley, who was the deputy high commissioner at the time, on September 24, 2017, in order to ask what had really happened to their passports. Ashley, who reportedly was unaware of the issue, told the group that he, unfortunately, had nothing to do with their passports and did not know who ordered that they be handed over to the Turkish Embassy.
Passports that were returned to the Turkish Embassy:nine passports-blacked
Nordic Monitor obtained a classified document that the Turkish Embassy sent to the Bangladeshi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a list of 69 Turkish nationals residing in Bangladesh whose passports were canceled by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2017 due to alleged links to the Gülen movement, which the Turkish government accuses of being behind a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Moreover, the embassy asked the ministry to pass the list to the relevant authorities. The Bangladeshi foreign ministry apparently circulated it to the diplomatic corps in the country.
Classified document sent to the Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry by the Turkish Embassy.List of passports rendered invalid and letter kopyası
However, it is still unclear why the BHC in Dhaka preferred to turn over the canceled passports to the Turkish Embassy instead of rejecting the visa applications and returning the passports to their bearers, making it the only diplomatic mission in the world that handed the passports of Erdoğan critics over to the Turkish government. It is known that a significant number of countries, mainly in the European Union, have handled the travel documents of Turkish asylum seekers since 2016 without taking into account Turkey’s cancelation of them. In addition, Interpol had shut off access to its database by the Turkish police’s Interpol/Europol department after the Erdoğan government flooded the system with politically motivated filings in 2017.
The list the Turkish Embassy sent to the ministry did not include the minors’ passports among the canceled travel documents. It appears that the BHC illegally shared the private information of the minors with a third party and returned their passports to Turkey. That obviously resulted in the loss of valid travel documents given the fact that Turkish embassies refused to issue passports and ID cards to Gülen followers and their children.
On June 21, 2018 the applicants asked United Kingdom Government Legal Department (GLD) through a law office on what grounds the BHC in Bangladesh had not returned their passports, accusing it of violating family and private lives due to wrongful interference.
The GLD responded on March 12, 2019 that the alleged torts were committed entirely in Bangladesh; therefore, alleged claims must be addressed under the applicable laws of that country. The GLD also claimed that it was impossible to see how the passing of the passports to the Turkish Embassy caused any interference given the fact that passports were no longer valid, adding that the Turkish Embassy’s demand for their return was legal. The GLD did not comment on which legal requirements authorized the return of the minors’ valid passports.
Response of the Government Legal Department:GLD pre-aciton response (12-03-2019) (16-30)
Bedrettin Suata, who was general manager of the International Hope Schools in Bangladesh at the time, told Nordic Monitor that his family suffered from the BHC’s decision as his wife and his three children’s passports were given to the Turkish government. He had to leave Bangladesh alone for Australia to escape the possibility of extradition, leaving his family behind. Suata confirmed that he departed Bangladesh on his canceled passport, thanks to Bangladeshi authorities, who did not pose any obstacles. He and his family were separated until they were reunited in a European country last year.
“What is interesting is that our school and the British Council, [a UK governmental organization specializing in education and sponsored by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office] collaborated on many projects in the past and still do. The British Council continues to use our school premises for their activities. British diplomats in Bangladesh know us very well. Would they cooperate with us if we were associated with any illegal activities like terrorism? One of our teachers whose passport was canceled by Turkey had visited the UK as part of an educational trip upon an official invitation several weeks before the saddening incident,” said Suata.
As a side note, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the UK Parliament in March 2017 stated that Fethullah Gülen and the movement he inspired as a whole were not behind a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, adding that “The Foreign & Commonwealth Office did not have evidence to justify the designation of the Gülenists as a terrorist organization by the UK, and the Committee agrees with this assessment.”
Thousands of people have fled Turkey since the coup attempt in 2016 due to persecution of alleged members of the Gülen movement. Many have tried to illegally flee Turkey as the government had canceled their passports. Alleged Gülen followers abroad whose passports were canceled by Turkey faced violation of their right to travel and had to seek asylum in the countries in which they were residing, or looked for ways to leave the countries in which they had lived for years, long before 2016, when they were not allowed to stay with invalid passports or they did not find it safe to stay there amid Turkey’s pressure for extradition.
Last March 9-year-old Nurefşan Teke drowned while trying to cross the Evros River with her mother Neslihan in order to reunite with her father, who had to flee Turkey five years earlier due to the ongoing government crackdown. Her body was found on the Turkish banks of the river. The family has been under a travel ban since the Turkish authorities refused to issue them passports.
According to the Interior Ministry over 234,000 passports have been canceled since 2016.
Nordic Monitor previously revealed that Turkish diplomatic missions around the world had collected information on 4,386 Turkish nationals in line with a systematic spying campaign launched after the coup attempt in July 2016, listed their names as if they were part of a terrorist organization and transmitted it to headquarters and local authorities.