Anya Mehra, UWC Mahindra College(’11-’13)
A friend I made on my trip to Turkey, Alessandro told me that he came there hoping for a life changing experience. I don’t know if the trip fulfilled his expectations but it definitely changed my perspectives on things I was clueless about before this trip. The person who initiated this was a 24 year old man named Kabir.
We found Kabir sitting on the side of the road in Van, a small town bordering with Iran. We were giving out brochures on the necessities of proper disposal of waste (isn’t that so UWC, haha) and we gave one to him but he didn’t seem interested. We tried to talk to him but he didn’t understand Turkish or English. Then he gave us his passport, it turned out that he was Bangladeshi and so I could understand his language. The first thing he said to me was ‘can you please help me?’
That was a little scary but since I was curious I told him to go on. He told me a very absurd story that initially, I had trouble believing. Basically he said that he had been kidnapped in Dubai and taken to Iran, where he was kept with other Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. There the captive individuals were asked to pay a ransom and those who could not were starved and beaten. Some even tried to escape but, they were nearly murdered when found. Luckily, Kabir’s brother could pay the kidnappers and in return they promised to take him back to Bangladesh.
Kabir told me about his journey to Turkey, about how he was made to the climb the mountains between Iran and Van and how he had never felt that kind of exhaustion before in his life. ‘One man almost fainted’ he said, ‘so the kidnappers took him onto their horse.’ When they reached the top they punched the man and sent him flying of the horse for being too weak. This was when Kabir escaped, taking his passport with him, as he knew they had no intention of returning him home. The police car was making rounds so his group hid behind some rocks; he started running at this point and fell down a slope. The kidnappers didn’t come after him because of the police car and he made it into Van. Here he went to the police but no one understood him and even after getting him a translator they couldn’t help him.
This is what he told me while I just sat there with my mouth hanging open thinking, ‘does this even happen in real life?’ The only option I could think of was going to the police again but this time with a Turkish speaker. So I took my friend Caner with me and went to the police station. Only they couldn’t help us. They said that they couldn’t deport him because that would send him back to Iran where he would probably die and they had nothing to arrest him on. So here was Kabir stuck in a country where he was considered an alien, where he didn’t know the language and where he had no money or property other than the clothes he was wearing and his passport.
Over the next week, Caner lived with Kabir in a hotel. We visited the Human Rights building in Van and called the embassy and then the International Organization of Immigration in hopes of finding someone who could help us. Instead we only heard disappointing and unhelpful responses. However, after being redirecting a billion times we heard from a man who could help us. All we had to do was get Kabir to Istanbul and then he would be sent home. So after taking an illegal immigrant across Turkey, which I’m pretty sure could have got us in jail, we finally felt hopeful that we could get him home. Once in Istanbul, the International Organization of Migration took control and finally, sent Kabir home.
When I found out he was going home, I was so stunned because it had seemed impossible but also ecstatic. He even called when he reached Bangladesh to let us know he was fine. Most importantly though, his story really showed me how strange the world is. This man had to seek asylum in his own country because he was in another part of the world, without a visa due to no fault of his own. The police and his embassy and all the other bureaucratic systems we went through didn’t see a human being helpless and trapped, but a document that did not have the correct stamp on it. I just couldn’t understand why it took 3 weeks and a lot of people signing and stamping a lot of papers to get this man home.