In this powerful blog, a refugee father shares his harrowing experience of being persecuted and tortured in Turkey. He was working as a university psychology lecturer when the regime declared him a ‘traitor’ and imprisoned him. After fleeing to Greece, he has since joined family in the UK. He highlights the challenges of adapting to a new culture and country, missing his family and his desire to work.
I’m from Turkey, where Erdogan’s fake coup attempt in July 2016 changed the life of millions overnight. As a man who never went to the police station in his life, I worked as a university psychology lecturer when suddenly the regime declared me a ‘traitor’. Like hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey, I was detained twice, I was tortured and I got thrown into jail. I was lucky- I was in prison only for 6 months, in the country with the world’s most journalists and academics in prison. However, after I got out, the pressure of the state on me and my family increased even more, and at the end of 2019, I had to leave my beloved country and be separated from my wife and 2 young children.
I had to cross illegally to Greece because the regime did not issue a passport and a foreign ban was imposed. On a cold winter day, I was able to reach Greece after a long, tiring, freezing, dangerous and deadly journey. The Greek people and security forces showed me all their hospitality, but since my family was in the UK, Greece could only be a waiting place for me. I experienced that the hostility between Turkey and Greece, which I had learned in my previous life, consists entirely of politicians’ propaganda. The problems between the two states simply don’t exist on the ground. I realized how helpful, friendly and hospitable the Greek people are. They are also very close to Turkey culturally. Their food, culture, character and interests are very similar to Turkey. The last year here had a great impact on me; the new culture, new country, new people caused tremendous difficulties and questions in my mind.
In addition to being a very beautiful country, Greece is also a country that has difficulties for refugees. The aid given to asylum seekers and refugees is very low compared to other European countries and it is not possible for a refugee to live on this assistance. In this country where millions of refugees live, the unemployment rate is close to 20 percent. This country is struggling with the economic crisis, it cannot even provide job opportunities for its own people, let alone for refugees. As someone who knows the difficulties of living in this country and because my family also lives in the UK, I made an asylum application to the UK. Towards the end of 2020, I got on a plane with the approval and invitation of the Home Office and came to the UK.
I continue to struggle with the difficulties of life in this country as well. I have a new country, a new language, a new culture, and it is not easy to struggle with them when the pain of being separated from my children for 1.5 years is still added (we are currently split between Swansea and Cardiff).
My wife and I, who 5 years ago were teachers giving lectures to 100 people at a university, started life here at minus 5. We have no language, no recognised qualifications, no financial means, no social status, and no network- we are trying to establish our new life at a huge disadvantage. Being an immigrant is not a conscious choice for me, I simply disagreed with a dictator because of my political views and was forced into this life by the regime. Five years ago, being a refugee did not even cross my mind, but now it’s my reality.
Nevertheless, I feel incredibly lucky, and I count my blessings: I have left Turkey, which I can only describe as the world’s largest open-air prison. I have left behind the struggle to survive in Greece. And I have come to Britain, and with my professional background, I believe I will ultimately adapt to this country. However, I know that unlike me, many have difficulties in learning even the language of the country, and I think that helping these people is an obligation of all humanity.
I will not forget until the end of my life that this country took care of me and my family when the country I was born in declared me a “thought criminal”. As soon as possible, I want to join the workforce and make my own income, so I can make a contribution to this country and its people, even if it is small.