German, Turkish MPs take trafficking allegations against AKP municipalities to parliament

Deputies from Turkey’s Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Germany’s Die Linke have launched inquiries in their respective parliaments over claims that Turkey’s ruling party municipalities have aided several hundred people to cross into Europe illegally, daily BirGün reported on Sunday.

The parliamentary inquiries by Orhan Sarıbal and Gökay Akbulut follow a string of reports on Turks travelling to Germany with a special passport for trips facilitated by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) municipalities, only to never return.

Earlier in April, activity reports for 2020 from the Yeşilyurt municipality in Turkey’s southeastern Malatya province revealed a trip to Germany in September. Of the 45 participants on the trip, 43 failed to come back home for unknown reasons.

CHP’s Sarıbal asked Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu whether any action had been taken on the group who refused to return, including repatriation requests to Germany.

According to a report by daily Sözcü on the matter, the people who remained illegally in Germany had been issued service passports, which do not require visas to travel, by municipalities governed by the ruling AKP.

Journalist İsmail Saymaz wrote on Sunday that at least 300 people had been taken to Germany via similar schemes since 2019, citing a source in the southeastern Bingöl province.

The organisers of the trips charged 7,250 euros ($8,680) per person, Saymaz said.

The only two people who returned to Malatya were the directors of another NGO that proposed the trip to the municipality for a workshop titled Raising Environmentally Conscientious Individuals, according to an earlier report by news website Duvar.

BirGün reports that a separate scheme to take 37 people to Germany by a football club in the southern Şanlıurfa province was thwarted at the last minute, as well as another similar operation for 55 people by an NGO for the disabled in the eastern Ağrı province.

Members of the Ceylanpınar Football Club and their relatives arranged for service passports with the district’s AKP mayor as well, according to another report by Sözcü.

When reached for comment, Ceylanpınar Mayor Feyyaz Soylu first told Sözcü that no such thing had happened. When the daily sent Soylu documents proving the incident, the mayor changed tune and said this was the first he was hearing of it.

In Ağrı’s Doğubeyazıt district, the Joy for Life, an NGO for the disabled, arranged for five people with disabilties to travel to Bremen, Germany, accompanied by 50 others, according to Sözcü.

A Turkish-born German resident working for another NGO in Germany promised to cover all costs for the 55 people in total, and said he would pay Joy for Life’s utility bills for a year.

Joy for Life Chairman Oktay Topçi told Sözcü that the NGO first agreed to the project for the sake of the five people, but changed their mind when they found out that 50 unrelated people would also be issued service passports over their five members.

“The so-called NGO in Germany would cover the costs for our five members, but from the other 50 people, they demanded 10,000-12,000 euros,” Topçi said.

Another AKP municipality, the Akçakiraz district in the neighbouring Elazığ province, ran a similar scheme to take 48 people to Bremen, via an NGO named Migrants Relief and Solidarity Association, BirGün reported.

In Akçakiraz, only a portion of the planned passengers could be taken to Germany, reports found. Some 20 people were sent to Bremen in Nov. 2019, out of whom only three returned.

CHP’s Sarıbal voiced another claim that among the persons smuggled into Germany was Ali Ayrancı, a former mayoral candidate from the AKP.

In his parliamentary inquiry, Sarıbal also brought up allegations that similar schemes were conducted in the Tuşba municipality in the eastern Van province, as well as the Arıcak and Üçocak districts of Elazığ and the Yıldırım district in the northwestern Bursa province.

The opposition deputy also asked whether the people taken to Germany via unlawfully issued service passports had any known connections to terrorist organisations.

In Tuşba, municipal council member Ayşe Minas told news outlet Tele 1 that three people from her party, the pro-Kurdish left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were also propositioned to join a similar scheme.

“We rejected the proposal because we stand against such things on principle,” Minas said on Saturday.

Minas said a total of 55 people were set to be taken to Germany from Tuşba, but the HDP group in the municipal council were told nobody had actually left when they questioned the municipality.

Another province allegedly involved in the scheme was Ordu along the Black Sea coast. In Ordu’s Korgan district, the same German NGO offered to gift the municipality an ambulance as they arranged for a project for the summer of 2020, which entailed a trip for 53 people to Hanover, Germany, according to Ismail Saymaz’s report.

Korgan’s former deputy mayor and organiser of the trip, Selahaddin Emirosmanoğlu, told Saymaz that the Turkish side was not aware of the trafficking scheme, but led to believe that a local government in Germany was offering to become a sister municipality.

Participants from the district decided not to go due to the COVID-19 pandemic, at which point Emirosmanoğlu was provided a list of names for the municipality to issue service passports for by Ersin Kilit, the German resident allegedly behind the scheme. A total of 49 people were issued passports and currently cannot be accounted for.

AKP’s Korgan Mayor Tuncay Kiraz didn’t respond to Saymaz’s inquiry for comment.

Another scheme was proposed to the Koru district of northwestern Yalova province, where a disability NGO planned to take 60 people to Germany in February 2020, but the project fell through when the opposition mayor of the municipality suspected foul play, Saymaz wrote.

The AKP mayor of Akçakiraz, Sabahattin Kaya, told Saymaz in an earlier interview that “any deed that had more profit than damages is halal”, when asked why his municipality had participated in the scheme.

“We don’t have several universities or an organised industrial zone. Our citizens are unemployed,” Kaya told Saymaz. “We thought they could go get a job there. I thought it was prudent.”

Those who left for Germany from Akçakiraz were “people who would have been a burden on Turkey,” Kaya added.

However, the mayor allegedly thought the participants would visit Germany, explore opportunities, and come back to arrange for legal travel at a later date.

The municipality was gifted a truck worth $12,500 for its participation in the programme.

Kilit told journalist Sevilay Yılman that German authorities launched an investigation against him after the news broke in Turkey, while denying all involvement.

The trafficking method had first been encountered in 2016, Turkey’s interior ministry said in a statement on Friday, shortly before the failed coup attempt of July 15.

According to the statement, the ministry also warned municipalities against issuing service passports without due process in December, as some people had abused service passports to seek asylum in European countries they travelled to.

Ankara police thwarted one such scheme in March 2020, the ministry said.

As part of an ongoing investigation into the Yeşilyurt municipality, four public servants have been removed from duty, the ministry said. Service passports for civilians will not be issued until further notice, it added.