African refugees allege forced labour by Turkish police

Saturday, December 9, 2006

A group of African refugees complained to the Helsinki Citizen's Assembly (HCA) Refugee Support Program that they were taken under custody and that they were forced to work for the Turkish police.

According to H.R.M., a 38 years old refugee from Democratic Republic of Congo who has been in Turkey for the last 16 months, on November 30th, when the Pope was visiting Hagia Sophia and Sultan Ahmed Mosque, he and his twelve roommates decided not to go outside because of the rumours that blacks were being taken under custody by the Turkish police. However, when he ended up having to go outside to buy food at 10pm, he was taken under custody and put on a police car. H.R.M. claims to find himself in Sultanahmet area, where

There were two empty trucks and many safety fences. They told us 'we will not arrest you if you pick these up'. I started picking up fences and put them to the first truck. When the first truck was full, I lined up those that were picked up by other in the trunk of the second truck.

According to H.R.M.'s claims, this took about two hours, after which they were taken to a work site where they were made to empty the fences in the trucks. He tells:

They told us to empty the fences there. I couldn't work because my hand was cut at Sultanahmet. They didn't force me to work. The work was done at 5am. They dropped us at Kumkapı. They gave us food once.

He complains that he was treated like a slave by the Turkish police. He says:

At Sultanahmet, I asked the police officer why only blacks were taken, he didn't answer. I felt myself like a slave. This happened once before in İzmir, where I was fired from a job because I asked them to give me my money.

Özlem Dalkıran, a spokeswoman for HCA Refugees Support Program told that they were receiving many reports of collective false arrests and forced labor and that they will be reporting these to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The İstanbul Police Office released a press statement that said they "do not think any response to the allegations would be appropriate".

There are many illegal African immigrants in Istanbul seeking a way into Europe; which has led to conflicts with native Turks.