A group of men from Pakistan has narrowly escaped freezing to death on the border between Iran and Turkey. The men claimed that they were rescued by a local taxi driver after being robbed and pushed back to Iran by the Turkish authorities.
Mohamad* gestures weakly with his bandaged hand to the hospital ward and the bed beside him where his friend is lying, hands and feet heavily bandaged, an IV drip running into his arm. The two young men are being interviewed by Mahmut Kacan, a lawyer in the eastern Turkish province of Van.
Mohamad: “We are at the Turkey border. Your (Turkish) soldiers catch our bags, our food, our gloves, our shoes, our bag of food – no food.
Kacan: “They took your belongings?”
Kacan: “What happened then?”
Mohamad: “Your soldiers ask (us to) go. We find a road. Your country taxi man ask (us to) come. We come and (are taken to) hospital.”
Kacan is a member of the Van Bar Association, which provides free legal aid to asylum seekers and refugees as well as monitoring migrant border crossings in Van and neighboring provinces. He sent InfoMigrants a video via WhatsApp of Sunday’s interview. On Tuesday, he said the men were still being treated in hospital. The doctors had warned that their fingers, black with frostbite, may need to be amputated.
Claims of pushbacks not new
The claims against the Turkish authorities are very serious, Kacan says, and will need to be thoroughly investigated. According to Turkish asylum law, border guards, police or other law enforcement officials have to hand migrants over to immigration authorities within 48 hours. Simply forcing them back across the border (pushbacks) is illegal, but it does happen, according to Kacan.
“This is not legal. However, from time to time, we hear from asylum seekers, refugees and migrants that if they were apprehended on the border by the Turkish soldiers, they are tortured and they push them back to Iran. They don’t care about their needs or they don’t receive their asylum request if they have one. Yes, we have heard those stories many times.”
As well as interviewing five Pakistani men, Kacan spoke to an Afghan couple with three young children also suffering from exposure in the Van hospital on Sunday. The family had crossed the border with the help of smugglers, but had then been left in an isolated place to fend for themselves, Kacan said.
“This family found a village on the border and the villagers helped them (by taking) them to hospital. On the way the two children’s fingers and feet froze, and also the lady’s husband’s hands were frozen by cold.”
Deaths emerge in spring
Extreme weather conditions usually prevent large numbers of migrants from attempting the crossing from Iran into eastern Turkey during winter, Kacan explains. But InfoMigrants has learned that as many as 150 migrants may have tried to cross the border late last week, with some 60 people still missing. On Monday the authorities in Van were told that 13 migrants had died. No one has been able to confirm the deaths or recover the bodies because of the weather, Kacan says.
It may be spring before the real number of victims is known. After last winter, more than 26 frozen bodies were discovered on the border, Kacan says. Photos of the dead sent to InfoMigrants are of partially decomposed remnants of bodies lying on snow.
“I hope it will not come true but this winter I am expecting that more bodies will be found,” says Kacan. “Because this year winter conditions are very much harder than last year. We hear many claims, but the authorities didn’t find any corpses or bodies on the border -- it’s because it’s not accessible at this time. But when the spring comes, I am expecting this.”