Sweden repatriates Kurdish asylum seeker to Turkey

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Resul Özdemir, a Kurdish asylum seeker in Sweden who Turkey says is a top-ranking member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), was returned to Turkey on Wednesday.

Özdemir was repatriated “as a result of coordinated efforts” by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MİT) and Swedish authorities, state-run Anadolu news agency said, citing anonymous security sources.

The Kurdish asylum seeker had been convicted to 15 years in prison for membership of the PKK. Turkey maintained that he had been in charge of PKK forces in Cizre, a town of 140,000 along Turkey’s border with Syria, during violent clashes of late 2015 between Kurdish militants and Turkish security forces following the collapse of a ceasefire with the PKK.

Swedish authorities had told Özdemir’s family last week that the man would be sent to Turkey, as the country released asylum seekers and refugees held in repatriation centres as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic continued to spread. The family was later told there had been an error and that there would be no repatriation, according to Özdemir’s lawyer, as quoted by Evrensel newspaper.

Özdemir had been in a prison in Swedish capital Stockholm since December 2019, following the rejection of his appeal for asylum by the migration court. In February, some 40 Kurdish and Swedish organisations issued a statement condemning Sweden’s attempt to deport the man, who they said would possibly face torture in Turkey.

Turkey and the PKK have been engaged in a decades-long conflict in the country’s southeast, which has seen more than 40,000 killed. The PKK, which maintains its headquarters in the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq, has been labelled a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.