Two weeks after the failed July 2016 coup, Mustafa Yilmaz’s vacation was abruptly interrupted by a 5am phone call. It was a neighbor who warned him that 20 police officers were searching his house in Istanbul. He didn’t know why, but he could guess. “A witch hunt had been launched against the supporters of the [imán] Fethullah Gülen, who [el presidente turco, Recep Tayyip] Erdogan accused of being behind the coup. It sounds unbelievable, but overnight hundreds of thousands of people were declared terrorists.”
Mustafa had worked in an editorial for this Islamic brotherhood, which in some ways recalls Opus Dei, and he did not hesitate. Unable to travel to Europe, for lack of a Schengen visa, he opted for Latin America, where Turks do not need a visa. Three days later, his wife and two children join him in Bogotá.
Mustafa is not called Mustafa. He does not want to give his real name or show his face because his relatives and friends are still in Turkey and he fears reprisals. “In my country, they imprison for no reason and it doesn’t matter if they are old, babies, sick or housewives.”
What is true is the refugee card he received last December and which he shows as a treasure. He was the first Turk to obtain political asylum in Spain. Then two others joined, a businessman residing in Madrid and another in Barcelona, through the law firm Cremades-Calvo Sotelo, according to the website The diplomat in Spain.
Mustafá lived only three months in Bogotá. He didn’t feel safe. News began to reach him of kidnappings of compatriots exiled in Asian or African countries by the Turkish secret services. “At more than 10,000 kilometers away, we feared that Erdogan’s long claw would reach us.”
He decided to take refuge in Europe and thought of Spain because he had studied there in 2005, he spoke the language and it was a Mediterranean country that reminded him of his.
“A neighbor called me at dawn and said: there are 20 police officers searching your house”
“I want to apply for asylum, I declared when I arrived in Barajas. You are welcome”, answered the agent.
But he still didn’t have a visa, so he bet everything on one card: he bought tickets to Istanbul with a stopover in Madrid. When he landed in Barajas he went to the police and told them. “I want to seek asylum in Spain.”
Mustafá remembers with relief and infinite gratitude the response of the Spanish agent: “You are welcome”, he answered with a smile. His wife felt the knot in her stomach since they left: “And if they don’t accept us?” What if they send us to Turkey? Wasn’t it better to stay in Bogotá? It was a sea of doubts. Like him. Even if he didn’t show it.
After almost a week in Barajas, where they were followed by members of the Red Cross for whom he has nothing but praise, the good news has arrived: Spain has agreed to process their request. In the meantime, he was free.
In the 10 months that his case lasted, Interior officials questioned Mustafá twice. He told them every detail of his life and they asked him again and again about Fethullah. He does not deny his sympathy for the ideas of the clergyman, whose books he read at the age of 15 and whom he heard once in the United States. What he rejects is being a conspirator or a terrorist.
“I had no doubt that they would give me asylum, because Spain is a European country, a rule of law, and everyone knows what is happening in Turkey,” he asserts confidently. .
According to Amnesty International’s latest report, some 50,000 people are in pre-trial detention in Turkey and more than 100,000 have been dismissed. Among them, judges, prosecutors, soldiers, journalists or human rights defenders, such as the heads of the NGO.
Mustafá is confident he will have a long season in Spain. “Erdogan does not want to leave his throne. In Turkey, there is no opposition and no free press, so I have no hope that things will change.” If he came back now, he claims, “he would be arrested at the Istanbul airport itself, imprisoned and tortured, like many I know”.
Mariano Rajoy is supposed to discuss all this on Tuesday with the Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, whom he will receive in La Moncloa during the first bilateral summit since 2014.