Edmonton father who fled Turkey leaves on overseas mission to rescue family
Ottawa urged to expedite residency process for those fleeing oppression in Turkey
An Edmonton father who fled the political turmoil in Turkey is putting his life in danger to return to the region to rescue his wife and young children — and he's pleading for help from the Canadian government.
"My family is in danger," he told CBC News through a translator. "I have no worries about myself. I just want to save my family."
CBC is not identifying the family or sharing certain details about his travels that could reveal their identities because of the life-threatening circumstances.
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Turkey has been in a state of emergency since a July 15, 2016 coup attempt and a subsequent government crackdown that saw President Recep Tayyip Erdogan move to gain sweeping powers. Erdogan's promised "cleansing" of Turkey's state institutions has seen tens of thousands lose their jobs or be jailed.
For the Edmonton father who is a protected refugee, time is of the essence. He only has a 15-day travel visa to rescue his family.
He hasn't had the heart to tell them that the permanent residency status he needs to bring them back to Canada has yet to be approved.
'Give us a chance'
He and his supporters are imploring the Canadian government to expedite the application process.
"Give us a chance to live here peacefully so I can live with my family and live with my kids and see them grow," said the man, acknowledging the danger of the task before him due to his membership in a group demonized by the Turkish government.
"There are countries which are extraditing people of the Gulen movement so if somehow I'm exposed they might get me," he said, explaining that he would most likely be imprisoned, tortured or even killed. "There are so many examples of this."
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It's been a year since the PhD student escaped Turkey after being tipped off to his imminent arrest during the government crackdown in the aftermath of the failed coup.
Gulen members deny those allegations, insisting their movement, known as Hizmet or "service" in Turkish, advocates for religious tolerance, education, human rights, democracy and building bridges with the West.
Haunted by daughter's calls
But participation in the group forced the Edmonton father into hiding, separate from his family, prior to his departure. It also meant he had the travel visa he needed to flee. He never thought his family would soon be at risk.
Last January, he applied for permanent residency in the hopes his family would soon join him in Canada.
He's haunted by his young daughter's tearful phone calls, begging to visit him. He carries her small stuffed animal, a departing gift from a child forced to grow up too soon.
"If anything happens to them because of me I don't know how I'm going to live my life," he confided.
If anything happens to them because of me I don't know how I'm going to live my life- Turkish father on rescue mission to save his family
With the situation in Turkey deteriorating, they can no longer wait. The man said his family is on the run, even hiding from their own relatives who would turn them in. It was an uncle who first provided his name to the police, he said.
"I'm not angry with them," said the man. "Everyday the mass media keeps telling that we are the enemy of the state, and that's what they believe."
A letter written by his wife underscores their urgent circumstances.
"I don't have more tears to cry anymore and enough strength to keep my kids safe anymore," she wrote. "I don't know how to take care of my kids anymore."
She said she was recently brought before court, and freed with these final words from the judge: "We will get you sooner or later. Now go."
Her letter continued: "Prisons now full of moms, dads and even kids. I don't want my kids to see me getting tortured every day at the prison … please help me Canada as you helped many ..."
Not much time left
Her sign-off is desperate.
"Is there anybody there who can help us? If so PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE HURRY! Because, I start feeling that we don't have too much time left."
The family's situation is not the only one of its kind in Canada. Gulen members and supporters estimate there are more than 35 Turkish families in Edmonton associated with the Gulen movement and more than a thousand living across Canada, in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Regina, Calgary and Vancouver.
This is a targeted war on a specific group of people in Turkey and to me that speaks to genocide- Edmonton human rights advocate Renee Vaugeois
Supporters say Canada is one of their only hopes right now because other countries are extraditing Gulen members back to Turkey.
Edmonton human rights advocate Renée Vaugeois has sent a letter to Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen urging him to expedite the Edmonton man's residency application.
"This a targeted war on a specific group of people in Turkey and to me that speaks to genocide," said Vaugeois, referring to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. "We need to support those that are putting themselves in danger to try and figure out how to save their families."
Alex Neve, secretary general for Amnesty International Canada, said after the failed coup the Turkish government rightfully went after those involved, but then went far beyond that.
"Now the Turkish government has cast an unbelievably wide net and is going after anyone who they believe — and there's usually no basis for that belief — in any way may have been supportive of or may know a supporter of the Gulen movement," said Neve. "It's staggering and it is getting worse not better."
5 Turkish-Canadians behind bars
Amnesty says the five Turkish-Canadians behind bars include Calgarian Davud Hanci. In the past month, two of Amnesty's own leaders have been imprisoned. Police arrested Taner Kiliç, the chair of Amnesty International Turkey, on June 6. Last week, authorities detained director Idil Eser, accused of belonging to a terrorist organization.
Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Jocelyn Sweet said the department has raised the issue with its ally in bilateral interactions and international forums.
"We have expressed concern that increasing numbers of human rights defenders, academics, journalists, and civil society actors, are being impacted by the broad application of national security measures," she wrote in a statement. "Canada has been consistent in urging Turkey to respond to its challenges in a proportionate manner, upholding its commitments to the rule of law and international human rights."
Citizenship and Immigration Canada has not yet commented on the Edmonton man's case.