Melek* moved to Belgium two years ago, when her husband, a Turkish diplomat, was assigned to Brussels. She took unpaid leave from her job in a prestigious Turkish institution. Their lives were perfect until the 15th of July 2016, when an attempted coup in Turkey turned their lives upside down. Her husband was discharged and she was dismissed from her job because she was married to him. Unable to return to their country for fear of persecution, they applied for asylum in Belgium. Lacking money and fearing retaliation, Melek struggles with her new life.
Despite her full schedule finding a job, learning French and Dutch and undertaking unpaid research as a PhD candidate, she decided to write a piece for RefuTales. One year after the failed coup, she’s ready to speak up.
“My husband’s dismissal is tragicomic, since we were in Belgium (according to president Erdogan the centre of PKK militia and coup plotters , ed.) when the attempted coup was carried out in Turkey. We hadn’t been in our homeland for a while. How can my husband have had something to do with it? He has always worked in the interest of his country. It saddens me to see how he has been treated.
We cannot return to Turkey because lots of people, including journalists, academics, officers and teachers are dismissed, detained or worse. It’s a very tough situation for us, because we can neither go to our country, nor, for reasons I will explain, can we continue our lives here in Belgium
“Due to security concerns, we feel under threat and do not want to reside in refugee camps.”
Due to security concerns, we feel under threat and do not want to reside in refugee camps. One of the highest rate of support for the constitutional change giving extended powers to Erdogan, came from Turkish nationals living in Belgium (75%). We fear that Erdogan supporters might hurt us. The Belgian police has already received over 80 complaints from Turkish people regarding death threats and intimidation. A Turkish professor and columnist, Baskın Oran, likens the situation to the book ″Animal Farm″ by George Orwell. If you have an opposing view, you are labeled as ‘one of them’ (Snowball in the Orwellian understanding).
The Turkish Government has passed a law permitting their intelligence agency to conduct operations abroad. They have a huge network and we can see that many uneducated Turkish citizens and their descendants in Belgium would obey Turkish intelligence without question. On top of this, the Government has issued high value rewards on the heads of those affiliated to the Gulenist group (declared a terrorist organisation by the Turkish government, ed.). Johan Heymans, a lawyer defending such a Gülen follower, says: ‘We have documents making clear that Turkish mafia is hunting followers of Gülen in Belgium’ I might not know all of the facts about this case, but it scares me.
“European authorities follow a delicate path not to incense Erdogan, which may result in an annulment of the immigration deal.”
The pressure is increasing as European authorities follow a delicate path not to incense Erdogan, which may result in an annulment of the immigration deal (Turkey hosts the largest popupaltion of displaced Syrians (about 3 million), ed. ). According to a report that appeared on La Libre (based on a statement of Walter Van Steenbrugge, a lawyer defending an industrialist close to the Gülen movement, ed.), the Turkish intelligence agency is trying to kidnap and send back some of the opponents. I can’t say for sure that something might happen to us in Belgium, but there’s a real possibility. I will not take any chances.
We carefully guard our identity and address.
We have no income. As our asylum applications have not been concluded, we are not granted any financial assistance. We have the right to go to a refugee camp, where they would provide food and housing, but, as I explained, this is not an option for us. I will not put my family’s safety at risk. Our hands are tied. We are consuming our savings. Some of our friends had to sell their cars in order to make ends meet. I have no clue what to do when our savings run out.
“Some of our friends sold their cars in order to make ends meet.”
In order to find a job, we have to learn both French and Flemish, which is impossible in the short term. My husband applied for several positions, but was refused because of the language requirements. I am a PhD candidate at a Belgian university, but as I am an external researcher, I do not receive any income. As a result of this situation I cannot focus on my research because I have to find a job in order to survive. My worries are detrimental for the quality of my work.
“I cannot focus on my research because I have to find a job in order to survive.”
As soon as I graduated from university, I started working. I never asked anything from anyone. Now, I still don’t want to receive any handouts. I only want to be able to work and contribute to the society I live in. I am sure that any support given to vulnerable people like us, will be repaid to society tenfold.
Accepting refugee status
Being part of the Turkish elite, I used to be blessed with having no real problems. Before 15 July 2016, my life was perfect. It’s very confrontational to go from having everything, to having nothing. I never truly understood what it meant to be a refugee. They even bothered me a bit, to be honest. It is quite ironic that I am now one of them.
“I never truly understood what it meant to be a refugee. They even bothered me a bit, to be honest.”
All that has happened has made me grow as a person. It has opened my mind. I have learnt that everything can change in one day. Nobody is immune from calamities and everyone can become a refugee at any time. Disasters happen. Just imagine: what would you do if a nuclear power plant explodes nearby?”
*The author prefers to be anonymous. Her identity is known by RefuTales