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Activists commemorate asylum-seekers who drowned fleeing Ankara’s persecution

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Activists in Vienna on Saturday commemorated Turkish asylum seekers who drowned in the Aegean Sea and the Evros River while fleeing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s relentless crackdown on dissent, especially on the followers of the faith-based Gülen movement, the TR724 news website reported on Tuesday.

In line with June 20, World Refugee Day, the participants threw flowers into the Danube to commemorate those who perished fleeing Turkey, calling on European Union countries to stop pushbacks, as part of the event organized in Stephansplatz by the Grüß Gott Österreich Platform.

According to TR724, the protestors read the names of the deceased one by one, carrying their photos in addition to placards that said, “No pushbacks,” “Children die at the EU border,” “Do your job Frontex” and “Silence when children sleep, not when they die.”

Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, promotes, coordinates and develops European border management in line with the EU fundamental rights charter and the concept of Integrated Border Management.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government launched a war against the Gülen movement, a worldwide civic initiative inspired by the ideas of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, after the corruption investigations of Dec. 17-25, 2013 that implicated then-prime minister and current President Erdoğan’s family members and inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy, the AKP government designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. The government intensified the crackdown following a coup attempt in July 2016.

A total of 319,587 people have been detained and 99,962 arrested in operations against supporters of the Gülen movement since the coup attempt, Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced in November.

In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.

Purge victims who wanted to flee the country to avoid the post-coup crackdown took dangerous journeys across the Evros River or the Aegean Sea. Some were arrested by Turkish security forces, some were pushed back to Turkey by Greek security forces and others perished on their way to Greece.

The purge victims had to leave the country illegally because the government had revoked their passports.

Interviews and documents received from lawyers in Greece and Turkey as well as from the family members of victims and the victims themselves, allege that Greece carried out at least 233 illegal pushbacks of Turkish nationals between May and December 2021 alone, compared to 98 pushbacks tracked in 2019.

Pushing refugees back to the countries they fled is illegal under the principle of non-refoulement, which forbids a country from forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution. Athens has continually denied allegations about its use of this practice.

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