6 municipalities face inquiry for illegally helping people flee Turkey

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Turkey’s Interior Ministry has announced that it has launched an inquiry into six municipalities for allegedly providing service passports to people who are not legally eligible for them in order to help them flee the country, according to local media.

Three of the six municipalities are run by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), one by the İYİ (Good) Party and one is governed by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), while one has been run by a government-appointed trustee since its democratically elected mayor was removed by the government.

These municipalities are accused of illegally providing service passports to people, also known as grey passports, which are normally given to public servants when they are assigned to travel abroad for official business. Holding a grey passport allows one to travel to many countries without the need for a visa.

In a statement on Monday the ministry said the municipalities of Gömeç in Balıkesir province, Gölbaşı in Adıyaman, Yeşilova in Burdur, Yerköy in Yozgat, Suruç in Şanlıurfa and Korgan in Ordu sent people abroad in cooperation with civil society organizations under the pretext of “dance shows, culture tours or youth programs.”

The ministry said regulations allowing municipalities to provide grey passports to people had been suspended to prevent it from being abused further until new legislation is passed.

It was a recent CHP parliamentary question that first brought up the allegations about the involvement of an AKP-run municipality, the Yeşilyurt Municipality in Malatya province, in the illegal issuance of grey passports to help people flee Turkey.

After the development went public last week, Turkey’s Interior Ministry launched an investigation into the more than 40 people who had failed to come back to Turkey after attending a workshop titled “Raising Environmentally Conscientious Individuals,” which was held by German company Mega Kilit GmbH between Sept. 15 and 27, 2020.

Only two participants of the 12-day event, which was mostly attended by members of the Malatya World of Personal Development Association, Yeşilyurt Deputy Mayors Şahin Özer and Bekir Karakuş, returned to the country, according to Turkish media reports.

The district municipality on Wednesday said in a statement on Twitter that Özer and Karakuş were removed from their posts “to facilitate the proper conduct of the investigation.”

Meanwhile, Cumhuriyet daily columnist Barış Terkoğlu wrote in an article on Monday that it was not only some municipalities that were involved in illegally helping people flee Turkey but also Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, known as the Diyanet.

He wrote, based on the statements of Ali Ekber Yurt, who heads an Alevi foundation in the eastern province of Tunceli, that people were being smuggled abroad from Tunceli under the pretext of Diyanet projects. Yurt said he even filed a criminal complaint at the prosecutor’s office in March 2018 against the Diyanet.

He said the Diyanet sent some people abroad as part of projects to introduce the Alevi faith, which is not officially recognized in Turkey, but he alleged the people sent abroad had nothing to the with Alevi faith or culture.

“These people went there with state passports and did not return. For example, one was facing a prison sentence of 24 years in a trial of the PKK [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party], and his trial was about to be concluded. I heard rumors but have no evidence to support them, that this man paid 25,000 euros to be able to flee abroad,” said Yurt, adding that a 15-year-old was also among those sent overseas by the Diyanet as an Alevi dede, a socio-religious figure in the Alevi faith.

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