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Brother of Turkish asylum seeker lost in Evros River calls on authorities to find him

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Bünyamin Tekin

The brother of Yunus Emre Ayyıldız (27), a Turkish citizen who fled Turkey to seek asylum in Greece and went missing on Sept. 8 while crossing the Evros River and is still unaccounted for after 19 days, has called on Greek and Turkish authorities to find his brother.

Himmet Ayyıldız spoke to Turkish Minute on Tuesday, saying that on Sept. 8 at around 8 p.m. local time, he and his brother arrived at the banks of the Evros River in a group of four, and smugglers put his brother and another man from the group into a rubber boat to cross.

“They moved away from us because of the current and disappeared from sight,” Himmet said, adding that last thing he heard was screams. He later crossed in another rubber boat and discovered that his brother’s boat was damaged and that he fell into the water. 

“The smugglers said they had taken my brother out of the water and onto land, but that turned out to be a lie. When I reached the Greek coast of Evros, I searched everywhere, but I couldn’t find my brother,” Himmet said.

“My brother had a watch that sent a GPS signal, but I think it had been deactivated by contact with the water. We were also unable to reach his cell phone,” he added.

The man who had crossed the river with his brother was pushed back to Turkey by the Greek coast guard and arrested by the Turkish authorities. Himmet did not disclose this person’s name for security reasons.

According to this person’s account of the incident, Yunus Emre lost his balance, fell into the water and disappeared. Emre did not know how to swim, Himmet said.

Turkish authorities told Himmet’s lawyer that Turkey and Greece would conduct a thorough search of the area.

“I am just clinging to the fact that we have not heard any bad news so far. He could still be alive, somewhere out there. Maybe in a Greek detention facility. I am calling on the Greek and Turkish authorities to find him,” Himmet told Turkish Minute.

The Ayyıldız brothers were both sentenced to seven years, six months in prison for alleged membership in the Gülen movement.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of Dec. 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt in 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

According to a statement from the Turkish interior minister, a total of 332,884 people have been detained, of whom 101,000 were arrested and jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup.

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 and some were pushed back to Turkey by Greek security, while others perished on their way to Greece.

The United Nations Refugee Agency, members of the European Parliament and human rights watchdogs have repeatedly demanded that Greek authorities investigate such incidents of pushback.

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