In what can be called a blatant breach of UN regulations, the government of Pakistan is said to have handed over confidential information to Turkey about Turks affiliated with the Gülen movement, who had sought protection status with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Islamabad, a report in Nordic Monitor has stated.
A number of Turks associated with the Gülen movement reportedly seek asylum in Pakistan due to the risk of torture, ill-treatment and also death in Turkey.
Pakistani authorities had reportedly negotiated a secret deal with their Turkish counterparts regarding the 334 FETÖ (Turkish government acronym to refer to the Gülen movement) members and their families who applied for refugee status with the UNHCR Pakistan office. News website Nordic Monitor has reported citing a ‘secret memo’ drafted by Turkish Foreign Ministry diplomats that Pakistan, which shares an extremely close relationship with Turkey based on mutual benefits, has shared the names of these asylum seeks with the Turkish government, putting their lives at risk.
The Gülen movement has been vocally critical of the Erdogan government, exposing its pervasive corruption, aiding armed jihadist groups and other issues. Erdogan had in the past promised to “chop off the heads of traitors”.
“A list of 334 FETÖ [Turkish government acronym to refer to the Gülen movement] members and their families who applied for refugee status with the UNHCR Pakistan office has been provided [to us] by Pakistani authorities,” stated the memo.
It is pertinent to note here, that the UNHCR mandate requires authorities to maintain strict confidentiality of those seeking asylum in their country. According to the guidelines posted on the UNHCR website, all UNHCR staff are under a duty to ensure the confidentiality of information received from or about asylum seekers and refugees, including the fact that an individual has registered or is in contact with UNHCR. The UN body also makes clear that UNHCR will not contact or share any information regarding the applicant with the country of origin.
The secret memo drafted by Turkish Foreign Ministry diplomats makes it evident that the UNHCR Islamabad office passed the confidential information to the Pakistani authorities, who in turn, breached the confidentiality and trust and handed over the list to the Turkish Embassy, the report by Nordic Monitor says.
Now, as a result of Pakistan’s hoodwinking, the asylum seekers who were named in the UNHCR list will have to face criminal prosecution, that too on false charges of terrorism in Turkey, simply because of their affiliation with the religious Gülen movement, the Nordic Monitor report says. The Gülen movement is a transnational Islamic civic society movement inspired by the Turkish preacher Muhammed Fethullah Gülen.
UNHCR staff in Pakistan broke UN rules, Pakistan then used illegally obtained information to ‘please Turkey’, says report
The memo also stated that apart from releasing the names of the 334 FETÖ who filed for protection status with UNHCR to the Turkish Embassy, Pakistani authorities also handed over a separate list of 110 people who had departed Pakistan. Of these 110, 63 FETÖs had applications pending with UNHCR.
Pakistan also said all those who had filed for protection status with UNHCR would be deported before the expiration of the one-year review period.
According to the memo, the Turkish government had assessed that 284 people linked to the movement were still in Pakistan at the time. The report says that by handing over the names of asylum seekers to the Pakistani government, the UNHCR staff at Islamabad have not only broken UN rules but have blindly disregarded the trust placed on them by the members of the Gülen movemnet.
The Gülen movement
The Gülen movement has always suffered the effects of being highly critical of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on a host of issues ranging from the pervasive corruption in the government to Turkey’s aiding and abetting of armed jihadist groups.
According to the memo accessed by the local Turkish new website Nordic Monitor, Pakistan and Turkey had since 2014 engaging in secret talks for years on how to persecute people associated with the movement. The memo read that a deal was struck between the Turkish PM Erdoğan and then-Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during a meeting in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly that began on September 20, 2016.
The Gülen movement is named after 81-year-old Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamic cleric who began preaching in Turkey’s western city of Izmir during the mid-1960s. The Gulen’s movement is known in Turkey as Hizmet, which means “service” in Turkish. Followers of Gulen run schools in Turkey and around the world, with an aim to “empower youth through science, arts, and language education while providing an environment of mutual respect for different religions, ethnicities and cultures, as per its members.
It is believed that Turkey President Erdogan wanted Gülen to endorse and support all of his actions. Gulen refused this and the movement is now paying the price of independence. Erdogan accuses Gulen supporters of establishing a “parallel state” through a network of different sectors including the fields of education, media, and military.
Erdogan designated the Gulen movement a terrorist organization in May 2016 and charged Gulen and his supporters of leading a failed coup attempt on July 15 of the same year.
Erdogan vowed to “chop the heads off the traitors” behind the coup. But Gulen leadership believe it was actually Erdogan that planned the “staged” coup as an excuse to expand the persecution.
Since then, the persecution of people suspected to be having links with the Gulen movement continues unabated in Turkey, and strategic interests have bounded Pakistan to help Turkey in its ulterior motives.
Pakistan is not a signatory of the 1951 Geneva convention of the UN regarding refugees, nor the 1967 protocol. It regulates the entry, stay and movement of foreigners through the Foreigners’ Act of 1946, according to which all foreigners without valid documentation, including refugees and asylum-seekers, are subject to arrest, detention and deportation, as per UNHCR website.