Kurdish mother and daughter appeal deportation from Zurich Airport

Edibe Doğan and her 13-year-old daughter have been detained at Zurich Airport for nearly 50 days. After their application for asylum was denied, Swiss authorities decided to deport the mother and daughter to South Africa, but Doğan is appealing the decision, fearing they will be sent from there to Turkey where she will face jail.

Doğan is originally from Mardin, a city in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast, a region scarred by more than 30 years of conflict between security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Thousands of Kurds have left the region and the country. Doğan settled in Duhok, in the Iraqi Kurdistan region, where she lived from 2004. Considered as a member of the PKK by Turkish authorities, Doğan has been able unable to return to Turkey.

While living in the Iraqi Kurdistan region, Doğan worked at the Waarmedya News Agency and at a monthly news magazine called Zine Waar, which focused on women and society.

Doğan said she married in 2005 and had a daughter named Pelin. After the couple separated, Doğan chose to continue living with her daughter in the city, but they did not have official documentation or identity cards.  

Doğan, who would be arrested if she went to Turkey, said she decided to go to Europe to begin a new life with her daughter. She arrived in Switzerland by air via South Africa and landed at Zurich Airport.

There Doğan and her daughter applied for asylum, but have been held at the airport since. Switzerland considers South Africa to be a safe country, so authorities decided to send Doğan and her daughter back there.

Doğan said conditions in the airport were poor.

"Our room doesn't even have a window. The psychology of the children has been ruined. This is not a place suitable for people. They don't allow us to see anyone from outside. Our friends came several times, but they didn't put us in touch with them. We are isolated from the outside world," she said.  

Doğan said she had been notified that they would be deported on Monday.

"I migrated. I lived a life of forced exile. I was left without an identity. Now, my application for asylum has been denied. I don't have a country to go to, and I don't even have an identity card in my pocket."  

South Africa has a record of deporting Turkish citizens to Turkey, where tens of thousands of people are being held in extended pre-trial detention and right activists say the judiciary has come under the strong influence of the government.

"I gave all the money that I had saved since 2005 to smugglers. I came here on my last penny. I don't even have money to buy my daughter coffee,” Doğan said. “They want to kick us out of here. South Africa is not a safe country for us. We came here for security.”

 She said it was difficult to live as a divorced woman with a child in Iraqi Kurdistan, particularly when Islamic State advanced towards the region in 2014.

"My daughter is 13 years old, and she doesn't have an identity card either. At the very least, I wanted to have documentation for my child. Because we didn't have papers, we weren't able to get out of the area. The ISIS situation was a nightmare for us. In the case of a possible attack, there was a village where people could escape to. But my daughter and I had no place to go. We were out of place. If I had been on my own, then I would have persevered. I left because of my daughter. This is the circumstance most responsible for putting me on this path,” she said.

Dogan's daughter Pelin Korkmaz said:

"It's like a prison here - it's not a place for children. While we need to run outside like other children, we can't even get any air. We came to Switzerland for a new life. I wanted an identification card. My mother set out on such a journey so I would have an identity. Please let people be sensitive to this … Let a child have an identity in just one country."

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.